The Border War is alive and well, my friends.
Horejsi Athletic Center was filled to the brim 20 minutes before the match began. I would estimate 80% of the crowd was wearing crimson or blue. The crowd booed vociferously as the "visiting" Missouruh Tigers were announced. The crowd cheered wildly as the "home" Jayhawks were introduced.
You can't tell me the players didn't feel it, either. Early in the first set, the Jayhawks led 5-4. Then this happened:
Now, Tayler Soucie is normally one of KU's more "expressive" players. But I haven't seen her like that all year. She did the exact same thing on the very next point - block and super fired up fist pump - to give Kansas a 7-4 lead. Missouruh would close to 12-10, but that was the closest they'd get in the first set, as the Jayhawks pulled away for a relatively easy 25-16 win.
Second verse, pretty much the same as the first. Missouruh won the first point and hung around with the Jayhawks for a bit, even leading KU 7-6. KU quickly regained the lead, and a service error brought MU to within 3 at 13-10. But the Tiggers would only score three more points the rest of the way, as the Jayhawks dominated the rest of the second set, 25-13.
At intermission, the fans were treated to a different kind of KU vs MU contest. Two MU fans were chosen to go up against two KU fans in a kind of "serve and receive" contest. One person would serve, the other person would try to catch the serves in a basket on the other side of the net. Whoever "caught" the most in 45 seconds won t-shirts. The two MU fans collected what looked like an insurmountable 11 volleyballs. When the KU fans collected their 12th volleyball with five seconds left, you couldn't hear yourself think.
Now back to the action.
Missouruh came out on fire in the third set. They took leads of 5-1 and 8-3. But the Jayhawks would not be denied. Kansas scratched back to within two, 12-10. Missouruh stretched the lead back out again, 16-11. Then it was 19-14 Tiggers. In order to win the third set, KU would have to win 11 points before MU won 6.
But Kansas fought back. Before you knew it, MU only had a 20-18 lead. The teams exchanged points until Missouruh had four set points, a 24-20 lead. A kill by Soucie was followed by two Missouruh attack errors (hitting the ball into the net). Was the pressure getting to MU? They now only had a slim 24-23 lead, and the crowd was on their feet and roaring.
KU blocks the next attack and we have a tie set. Gotta win by two. MU gets a kill to take a 25-24 lead and another shot at set point. Then another attack into the net by MU ties it up at 25-all. Back-to-back smashes by Kelsie Payne gives the Jayhawks the set, the match, and the trip to San Diego.
Here is what that final point looked like:
And here is the team after they came back onto the floor from the locker room after the game to celebrate with the crowd:
Coach Ray Bechard talked about being down 24-20 in the third set (from KUAthletics.com):
"We called a timeout. I just said 'Guys, I don't know if we're going to win this third set but we need to start playing like we need to play. Forget the score board because if it goes to a fourth, we need to be playing well.' I think that took a little pressure off of them. We just needed to do what we do and next thing you know we had a deuce game. I knew it was over then. We put the team in 22-20 situations in practice all the time. When you're down 22-20, now you have to make plays. That's what they said in the timeout, it's just like the drill in practice. Let's do it."
Missouruh outside hitter Carly Kan had this to say after the game:
"The whole time I was just really energized. Both bands were just yelling at each other and it was a really fun atmosphere. The whole place is really loud and that gym especially. I don't think I've ever been in a louder gym than that so it was a cool experience because we haven't really played in packed, small gyms so it was a good experience."
Damn right. Now go get on the bus.
I mentioned a few days ago that two keys for the Jayhawks were to avoid starting slow and avoid service errors. Well, against MU, check and check. Kansas played at a high level against Missouruh, but I think they're capable of playing even better, and if they do, Omaha, here we come.
I'm sure what happened Friday night in Horejsi doesn't even hold a candle to the Allen Fieldhouse experience of Feb 25, 2012. But it was pretty fun anyway.
8-seed Stanford got upset in the second round, so the Jayhawks will face the Lions of Loyola Marymount. LMU was receiving votes in the final poll of the year, and finished the season with an RPI of 27. For comparison's sake, Missouruh and Iowa State are both ranked higher and had higher RPIs, and the Jayhawks didn't have much trouble with either squad. So, there's not reason to not expect the Jayhawks to advance to face the winner of Southern Cal - Creighton. But, LMU has shown they're capable of the upset, knocking top-10 Stanford out of the tournament. They also knocked off #11 BYU and #13 Colorado State earlier in the season as well.
Gametime has not been set, but KU vs LMU will begin at either 7:30 or 10 PM (Jayhawk time) on Friday, December 11. Should the Jayhawks advance, they will play again on Saturday, December 12, at 10 PM (Jayhawk time).
Once again, matches will be available on ESPN3, WatchESPN, and NCAA.com. No blackouts should apply. Alternatively, you can always listen to radio play-by-play at KUAthletics.com/radio. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter and Instagram.