It's the best result we have ever seen from this squad. Kansas Volleyball has never before made it to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. As the match was starting, Texas was finishing up a thrilling 5-set match to give all the higher seeds so far in the day a ticket to the semi-finals. Could the Jayhawks upset what has been the best team in the nation for most of the year?
The first set started out in promising fashion, with the Jayhawks battling the Lady Trojans blow for blow. Tied at 14, USC started committing uncharacteristic errors. Combining that with some great attacking by Kansas, the Jayhawks found themselves up 22-16. USC called a quick timeout, but the Kansas onslaught was only momentarily interrupted as the Jayhawks quickly finished off the set by a score of 25-18.
USC came out with some more fire to start the second set, but Kansas libero Cassie Wait fought off multiple attacks to keep the Jayhawks in it. USC got out to a 4-1 lead before both teams got sloppy. Errors abounded as both teams seemed to forget how to serve and pass. Kansas found themselves in a 11-7 hole before reeling off three straight points, two by way of USC errors. USC scored to briefly stop the run, but Kansas continued their comeback, scoring three straight points to take a 13-12 lead and force USC to use another timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, a long rally led to a block by Baylee Johnson and Alicia Ogoms for USC to pull the teams even at 13. After a kill by Kansas' Kelsie Payne, Ogoms appeared to have some sort of medical situation that required USC to call another timeout, but she was able to return. The teams traded points to get to 18-16, and then Kansas went on a quick 3-1 run to get a 21-17 lead. Point 21 came on what appeared to be a bad call right in front of the linesman, as a Kansas player looked to clip the ball as it was headed out of bounds, but the point was called for Kansas. A service error gave USC back a point, but Kansas continued to dominate play, again getting 6 game points with the score at 24-18. USC scored three straight points to make it interesting, but Kansas closed out the set 25-21 to get one set away from Omaha.
I'm sure that there will be a lot of talk about officiating, as there was a missed call in the Florida-Texas match that could have cost Florida a chance at the semi-finals and then also the missed call in the second set here, but volleyball has not yet adopted replay nationwide, and thus there was no way to overturn what was clearly the wrong call in both of those instances. I'm sure there will probably be some sort of push to institute more replay nationwide next year to help prevent these sort of calls in the future.
The intermission couldn't have come at a better time for USC, and they really took advantage of it, jumping out to a commanding 8-2 lead before Kansas coach Ray Bechard called timeout. Kansas only had one kill, the other point coming by way of a USC service error. The timeout didn't really do much good though, as USC took 4 of the next 5 points, pushing the lead to 12-3. Kansas used their final timeout to try and stem the bleeding. A couple errors by USC's Alyse Ford and a kill by KU's Janae Hall breathed life into the Jayhawks. USC took a point to get out to a 13-6 lead, but Kansas reeled off another 4 quick points, shrinking the lead to 13-10. The Jayhawks continued to chip away at the lead. Kansas pulled it back to 15-14 before USC called a timeout to try and halt the momentum. A rocket spike by KU's Kelsie Payne was just out of bounds, but she buried the next one. The teams traded points until 19-18, when Kansas broke the pattern with another Payne kill to tie it at 19. A couple unforced errors by Kansas put them back in a 2-point hole at 21-19, and USC pushed the advantage to 24-21. Kansas got one more point, but USC finished off the set 25-22.
For the fourth straight set, USC scored the first point, but this time, Kansas was able to hit right back, trading the first 4 points to tie it up 2-2. USC got three quick points before Kansas started trading points again. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, as Kansas quickly found themselves down 11-5 and calling another timeout. The first timeout of the set didn't really seem to do much, as the lead stretched to 15-7 and Kansas called another timeout. USC kept a big lead until they got to 18-11, but Kansas clawed their way back into it with 4 straight points, causing USC to call their first timeout of the set. The timeout did the trick, as they went on a 7-4 run to finish off the set 25-19.
Heading into the fifth and final set, Kansas looked to be in dire straits. All the momentum was with USC, and they jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead. Kansas called a quick timeout, and they went on a quick 5-2 run to get to a 6-5 deficit. USC scored two quick points to go up 8-5 and make the teams switch sides of the court. The two teams traded points to get to 12-9, and an error by Madison Rigdon put the Jayhawks in a dire situation, only 2 point away from being ousted from the tournament. After a timeout, four quick points tied the match up and put life back in to the Jayhawks. USC called a time out, and Payne got a huge kill to give Kansas the match point. Madison Rigdon got the final kill to complete the miraculous comeback and extend the season for the Jayhawks for another weekend.
Kansas advances to the National Semifinal for the first time in program history, and will meet the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday night at 8:30pm Kansas time on ESPN2.
ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!