Kansas junior Chelsea Albers’ career-high 17th kill couldn’t have come at a better time as her score was the final point in the Jayhawks’ victory Friday night against Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament.
A year ago, Kansas saw its 2012 season end in Allen Fieldhouse with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Wichita State. Facing the Shockers in the first round this year at the same venue, Kansas turned the tables winning 25-23, 25-19, 20-25 and 25-22.
Tied at 19 in the fourth set, KU scored four straight points, which included three errors by Wichita State. KU then held match point, leading 24-20 before Shockers senior Ashley Andrade recorded a kill and a block that pulled Wichita within 24-22. Albers then finished the match and sent the Jayhawks to the second round for the second straight year and fourth time in five overall NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Jayhawks will face Creighton, which beat Arkansas 3-1, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Creighton defeated Kansas 3-1 in Omaha in early September.
“It is just one step, but it is a critical one at this time of year,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “You have to win and survive to advance and that is what we are doing.”
Kansas started Friday’s match looking like a team ready to avenge last year’s loss as the Jayhawks raced out to a 14-7 first-set lead. However an 8-0 run by Wichita State gave the Shockers a 15-14 advantage and the teams remained close as Wichita led 21-19. KU finished the first set on a 6-2 run to the delight of the home crowd of 4,017.
“I thought that was a really high-level match, two teams playing extremely well,” Bechard said. “I thought it was critical to end the first set after we let our lead get away from us.”
Kansas won the second set, but found itself on the losing end of a back-and-forth third set. Wichita State used a 9-5 run to force a fourth set.
“We played well in the second set,” Bechard said. “True to character, Wichita State did not go away and we finally got in front of Andrade a little bit in the fourth set late and made some winning plays.”
Andrade, one of four Wichita State seniors who played in the NCAA Tournament all four years, recorded 16 kills from her middle blocker position, but only six in the final two sets.
Wichita State, which was playing in its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament, failed to advance to the second round for just the third time in eight overall appearances.