5-seed Kansas was stunned in extra points in the fifth set by the Creighton Bluejays Saturday night in Lawrence in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The first set went about like expected, with the teams feeling each other out on their way to a 10-10 tie. Then, Kansas erupted, going on a 10-3 run to take a commanding 20-13 lead. KU would hold on despite a Creighton comeback and win the first set 25-21.
The second set turned sour quickly for Kansas. After opening to a 2-2 score, Creighton went on a tear of its own, opening up leads of 9-3, 12-6, and 16-10. KU responded, closing to 19-16, but Creighton closed it out at 25-20.
The third set was all Creighton again. The Bluejays took an 8-7 lead and turned it into a 22-13 lead before taking the set rather easily at 25-17.
We finally saw vintage Kansas in the fourth set. The Jayhawks rattled off the first five points on their way leads of 16-5 and 21-12. KU hitters finally woke up with Kelsie Payne connecting on five kills and Jada Burse adding four.
All of that set up a tension-packed fifth set. With the Horejsi Center absolutely rocking and the pep bands battling back and forth, neither team could get separation. The only time someone led by more than one point was Creighton at 2-0 and again at 14-12. Kansas fought off six match points before Creighton was finally able to capitalize, and the upset was complete.
Creighton was every bit the aggressor on the evening, really attacking the Jayhawks and fighting for every point. For most of the evening, especially in the second and third sets, it looked more like KU was playing not to lose instead of playing to win. And yes, Facebook readers, there’s a difference.
Kelsie Payne played like the first team All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year that she is. She had 26 kills, including 7 in the fifth set, and absolutely dominated the match at times. Creighton just couldn’t handle her.
Due to the regional nature of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, Creighton and Kansas met earlier than they probably should have in the bracket. That may come off as a bit of sour grapes, and maybe it is, but there’s no way that a top seed like Kansas should have to face a top-25 team in the second round. In fact, after doing just a few minutes of research, how teams like K-State and Penn State got national seeds over Creighton is beyond me.
It’s definitely a disappointing ending to a great season, and three seniors - Cassie Wait, Tayler Soucie, and Maggie Anderson - won’t get to suit up for the Jayhawks again. However, Kansas has a lot of star power returning next year, and will be a top-10 team once again.
They Said It
Kansas coach Ray Bechard:
At some point, we'll reflect on 27-3 (record), which sounds pretty good, but right now it just hurts a little bit. I thought we were really good in the fourth set, the fifth set, we just didn't get the break we needed or create the breaks we needed. So, congratulations to Creighton, they played an unbelievable match and Coach (Kirsten) Bernthal Booth has done an outstanding job there. They're a team I think will represent our pod of teams very well."
Creighton coach Kirsten Booth:
"That was the best match I've ever been a part of. I first want to start with Kansas. (Kansas head coach) Ray (Bechard) has been a mentor to me and (is) someone that is a good friend. I enjoy their entire staff. It's the way I felt last night with UNI. I hate that someone's season ends because in a match like that it could've gone either way. Hats off to them on a phenomenal season.”
Kansas senior Tayler Soucie:
"I think that's what makes it hurt the most. The people we've had around us have made it so special; the fun we've had, the moments we've created. Knowing that we've helped make this program better and that we hope that in the future it continues to do what we've been trying to do."
Kansas senior Maggie Anderson:
"I think the word we came up with is 'bittersweet.' The things you listed, we can't complain about that stuff, but like Coach (Bechard) said, it just hurts a little bit right now."
The season is over for Kansas. The Jayhawks should come into the 2017 season with a high ranking - and huge chip on their shoulder. KU did not play well in the Tournament this year, and will also need to look at repeating as Big 12 Champions to show that the last couple of season weren’t just a flash in the pan.
This loss hurts now, and it’s clearly not the result we were hoping for. We’ll turn the page and come back again for another run at it next year.