The Kansas women’s volleyball team, having already reached historic heights this season, scaled another step in a five-set thriller Saturday despite almost letting the match slip away.
After winning the first two sets, then dropping the next two, the ninth-seeded Jayhawks pulled off a stunning upset of No. 1 USC, 25-18, 25-21 22-25, 19-25, 15-13, in the West Regional final at the University of San Diego.
“I hope everybody in the central and eastern time zones stayed up,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “That was a special, special match.
“They are resilient bunch. I’m very proud to say I’m a part of this Jayhawks volleyball program.”
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The Jayhawks’ eighth straight win — their first over a top-five opponent in program history — turned their first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight into their initial trip to the Final Four. Kansas (30-2) will face No. 4 Nebraska in the national semifinal Thursday in Omaha, Neb.
“I’m sure there will be as many Jayhawks fans there as will be Huskers fans,” Bechard said. “What’s cool about this group is the better the environment, the better they play.”
After winning the first two sets, the match seemed to be getting away from the Jayhawks. The third set was tied at 19, but USC was able to pull it out to extend the match, and the Trojans won the fourth set to send it to a fifth.
“We got a little discombobulated in the third and fourth sets, but we weren’t giving up,” junior Tayler Soucie said.
In the decisive fifth set, the Jayhawks fell behind 4-0 and trailed 13-9 before rolling off the final six points of the match, sealing it on sophomore Madison Rigdon’s 10th kill of the match.
Sophomore right-side hitter Kelsie Payne had a team-high 18 kills Saturday to reach 474 on the year to break Allison Mayfield’s school single-season record for kills. Rigdon, Soucie and junior Janae Hall each had 10 kills and sophomore Ainise Havili had a game-high 48 assists.
Trailing 14-13 in the first set, the Jayhawks ran off three straight points to open a 9-2 run that enabled them to open six-point lead. Rigdon had a team-high three kills in the set.
In the second set, four kills by USC senior Samantha Bricio staked the Trojans to a 6-2 lead. But the Jayhawks chipped away, and a 6-1 run gave Kansas its first lead at 13-12 before sophomore Payne’s fourth kill of the set closed it out.
Kansas fell behind 9-2 in the third set before rallying to tie it at 19, but got no closer and saw USC extend the match.
After USC opened a 8-4 lead in the fourth set, the Jayhawks never got closer than three points.