Kansas’ volleyball players wore blue T-shirts with “#RootForScoot” emblazoned inside a red heart before Wednesday night’s Sunflower Showdown match against Kansas State inside sold-out Horejsi Center.
The No. 6-ranked Jayhawks, who obviously had KU associate athletic director Scott “Scooter” Ward on their minds as he recovers from Friday’s emergency heart surgery at University of Kansas Hospital, rolled to an emotional, convincing 25-15, 25-20, 25-23 victory.
“You get to play at home, No. 1. You get to play at home against your in-state rival, No. 2. You get to battle and fight hard for a guy you love and who is making unbelievable progress himself. All those things thrown together I think was kind of a perfect storm for the Jayhawks,” said KU coach Ray Bechard.
KU (16-2, 5-1) won its fourth straight match against Kansas State and eighth in the last nine meetings against the Wildcats (14-5, 3-3), giving the KU players something nice to talk about with Ward during a trip into Kansas City today.
“We are going to go visit him tomorrow, actually, and see him in the hospital,” KU junior Madison Rigdon said after tying Kansas State’s Alyssa Schultejans with a game-high 14 kills. “We are really happy how he’s fighting. We love Scooter so much. I can’t wait to go in and see him tomorrow.”
KU junior Kelsie Payne, who along with senior Tayler Soucie had 11 kills, said it wasn’t hard to concentrate with their sport’s academic adviser in the early stages of recovery after major surgery to repair a tear in his aorta.
“It gives us more motivation since he’s doing so well now and he is such a fighter,” Payne said. “I think we key in on that and use him as a reminder we need to fight just as hard as he is.”
The Jayhawks dominated early Wednesday — a day after their coach released an emotional “open letter” expressing what Bechard called his “heartfelt” feelings for Ward.
KU’s Soucie, Payne and freshman Jada Burse (eight kills) in different combinations blocked four straight Kansas State shots, turning a 1-1 tie into a 5-1 lead in the first set.
The Jayhawks led, 9-1, and had that all important first set under control. KU entered the match ranked No. 99 in the country and sixth in the Big 12 in blocks.
“We set the tone the first 10 points,” Bechard said. “That blocking display was pretty impressive. When you block for points like that, that can really get everything about your team and game going. K-State was getting better and better. It was good to end that match in three (sets).”
Rigdon enjoyed watching the blocking display from the back.
“It pumped everybody up. It was super exciting. To go 9-1 was incredible,” Rigdon said. “I was back there like, ‘Yeah, guys good job.’ I was chillin’ but they did a great job.”
KU’s Ainise Havili had 37 assists and Cassie Wait 14 digs for the Jayhawks, who travel to TCU on Saturday for a 5 p.m. match. Katie Reininger had nine kills, Bryna Vogel eight kills, Katie Brand 30 assists, while Vogel and Kersten Kober had 12 digs apiece for K-State, which travels to Oklahoma on Saturday for a 6 p.m. match.