For the first time in school history, Kansas has reached the Elite Eight in women’s volleyball.
The Jayhawks advanced by topping Loyola Marymount 25-19, 25-11, 21-25, 25-13 behind 21 kills by sophomore Kelsie Payne and 49 assists from classmate Ainise Havili in the West Regional semifinals at the University of San Diego on Friday night.
“It’s wonderful, being here with all these girls side-by-side,” said Kansas senior Tiana Dockery, the first Kansas player to compete in NCAA postseason match each of her four collegiate seasons.
“We feel that we have so much more to go and give. This is what we’ve been talking about all season.”
Ahead is an encounter against the winner of the late match between No. 1 USC and Creighton. Kansas will take on the winner at 10 p.m. on Saturday night.
This was the second Sweet 16 appearance for the ninth-seeded Jayhawks, 29-2, who made their only regional appearance two years ago in Los Angeles.
“We’re excited to represent our university with the Final Four on the line,” Jayhawks coach Ray Bechard said. “At University of Kansas, we have sports that have done very well, and we want to be in as high regard as the other sports.
“We want to be an elite team, and we put elite expectations on our players.”
Kansas missed out on its third sweep in three tourney matches as the Lions, 24-9, took an 11-6 advantage in the third set and led by at least two points the rest of the way.
“We talked about it in the locker room (at the intermission),” Havili said. “We knew that they were going to come out fighting. Then we were able to responded well in the fourth set.”
The Jayhawks answered by taking an 8-4 edge in the fourth set with a 4-0 run, including three kills by Madison Rigdon, who finished with eight of her 10 in the set.
Kansas fans became their loudest, chanting, “Let’s go, Jayhawks. Let’s go, Jayhawks,” after Janae Hall ended a long rally for a kill resulting in a 15-10 lead in the fourth set. It came during a six-point run for an 18-10 edge.
Dockery and Tayler Soucie each added eight kills for Kansas.
Payne recorded five of her six kills in the first set in helping the Jayhawks pull away after holding a 10-8 lead. Kansas took control 17-12 on four straight points, highlighted by kills from Payne and Rigdon.
In the second set, Kansas capitalized on a late breakdown by the Lions, who committed seven straight errors to feed an eight-point Jayhawks surge that resulted in a 24-10 edge. Earlier, the teams were tied 7-7 before Kansas mounted a 7-1 run, punctuated by a kill by Dockery.
Unseeded Loyola Marymount qualified for its second regional berth by upsetting No. 6 Stanford. Heading into the tournament, the Lions hadn’t won a postseason match since 2003.
Like Kansas, Loyola Marymount reached the Sweet 16 for the second time in school history.