Kansas’ volleyball team won’t be returning to the Final Four this year.
The No. 5-seeded Jayhawks had their 15-match winning streak snapped on Friday night by No. 21 Creighton, which defeated the Jayhawks three sets to two in an NCAA Round of 32 match in sold-out Horejsi Center.
The first-to-15 point fifth set, in which a team must win by two, escalated into extra time, the Bluejays prevailing 20-18. KU, which had its 17-match home win streak halted, had been 8-0 in the fifth set of matches this 27-3 season.
“I guess if you were a casual fan and wandered across Horejsi Center, you’d have thought something pretty special was going on,” KU coach Ray Bechard said of a marathon match in which KU won the first set, 25-21, lost the next two, 20-25, 17-25, and won the fourth, 25-16.
“That was a special atmosphere, special effort from both teams. I am proud as I can be of our group. I’m pretty devastated we couldn’t flip the score. More than anything I’ll miss my relationship with these three young ladies (seniors Tayler Soucie, Cassie Wait, Maggie Anderson who joined him in interview room) and all we tried to do.”
The team that ended KU’s dream of reaching a Sweet 16 for the third time in four years and ultimately a Final Four for the second straight season — Creighton — stretched its winning streak to 22 matches. Creighton will meet Michigan on Dec. 9 in the Sweet 16, likely in Austin, Texas, if Texas wins its Round of 32 match Saturday.
KU had previously defeated Creighton on Sept. 8 in Omaha, Neb. The Jayhawks also defeated the Bluejays in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Allen Fieldhouse.
“That was the best match I’ve ever been a part of,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “Ray has been a mentor to me and good friend. I hate that someone’s season ends. A match like that could have gone either way.”
Kelsie Payne blasted 26 kills, while Jada Burse and Madison Rigdon had 12 apiece for the Jayhawks.
“This felt more like a regional final than a second-round match,” Bechard said. “The energy and teams were playing at a high level. Our fifth-set magic (ran out) … we didn’t make enough plays. We tipped a couple balls in the fifth set when you want to be aggressive, missed some key serves. Hopefully that will resonate as we move into the spring and gain from it.”
The match nearly was embroiled in controversy. KU’s Payne hit the ball out with CU up 17-16 in the fifth set, meaning the match was over. However, the officials conferred and declared that a Bluejay tipped the ball, tying the score at 17. It didn’t shake CU, however, as the Bluejays imrpoved to 28-6 on the season. KU finished 27-3 with losses to Creighton, Texas and Purdue.
“We were expecting the call to come back. We stuck together,” said CU’s Lydia Dimke, who had 56 assists.
Jaali Winters led Creighton with 23 kills, while Marysa Wilkinson added 15 and Taryn Kloth had 12.
“It was an obvious touch. You get a little nervous without a challenge review system,” Bechard said. “That should have given us some momentum. We didn’t do enough. Give Creighton credit. They had an answer. Every time you turned around they were making a play.”
Of the season, Bechard said: “At some point we’ll reflect … 27-3 sounds pretty good. Right now it hurts a bit.”
Or as senior Anderson said: “The word we came up with is bittersweet. As coach said, it hurts a little bit right now.”