Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers played the role of closer with her career-high 17 kills for No. 23 Kansas as it defeated Wichita State 25-23, 25-19, 20-25, 25-22 in first round action of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.
Albers’ career-high 17 kills all came in crucial moments of the match for Kansas (24-7) to keep its season alive by defeating Wichita State (28-7). Not only did the Jayhawks advance to second-round play Saturday against Creighton, KU also picked up the victory against the team that ended its season a year ago in front of more than 4,000 fans.
“I’m certainly proud of this group up here and the Jayhawk volleyball team that I’m representing and Jayhawk nation tonight, which was a great crowd,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “It’s just one step, it was a critical one this time of year. You have got to win and advance, survive and advance and that’s what we are excited about doing. We are excited to play a really good Creighton teamtomorrow night.”
Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc also came up big for the Jayhawks, punishing the Wichita State defense with 16 kills of her own, compared to just one error for a match-high .600 attack percentage. The All-Big 12 First Teamer also tied a season-high four service aces, which took over as the new Kansas volleyball NCAA Tournament single-match record. With her three aces in the tournament last season, Jarmoc also became the all-time service aces leader for the Jayhawks in NCAA Tournament matches.
Fellow redshirt senior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael was the third Jayhawk to put up double-digits in the kill column with 11, while senior setter Erin McNorton led all players with her career-high five blocks. She assisted on 54 Jayhawk points and added 10 digs for her seventh double-double of the year. Senior libero Brianne Riley led the floor in the dig category, digging out 21 Shocker attacks on the night.
Kansas served up a season-high 10 aces, marking the first time a Jayhawk squad served 10 aces in a match since a 2011 meeting with Liberty. Along with Jarmoc’s record four aces, freshman defensive specialist Cassie Wait tied for second on the Kansas NCAA Tournament single-match aces list with three – her new career-high. Redshirt freshman setter Maggie Anderson also set a career mark with two aces of her own. The categories on the final stat sheet were nearly identical between the two teams as Kansas was outhit .291 to .275, marking the first time a Kansas team was out-hit and still won a match this season.
Wichita State was led on the night by senior middle blocker Ashley Andrade who had 16 kills and three blocks. The Shockers had a total of four players take more 18 attempts at a kill and each of them hit above .333 in the match.
Kansas opened the match firing on all cylinders, while Wichita State looked out of sync. The Shockers surrendered four-straight points to the Jayhawks, three of which were errors. KU jumped out to an early 7-2 lead behind an acrobatic sequence from McNorton, who made a tough save to find Jarmoc for a kill to go ahead 8-2. Wichita State responded and closed the gap to three, 10-7 until Kansas kicked off a 4-0 run to take a 14-7 lead going into a Wichita State timeout. WSU head coach Chris Lamb was able to calm his team down during the timeout as the Shockers ran off five-straight points to inch back within two, 14-12, forcing Bechard into taking a timeout. Wichita State kept momentum after the short break and eventually took a one point lead, 15-14 during its 8-0 run.
Late in the set with Kansas trailing, 20-17, Bechard called a timeout with the Jayhawks in danger of falling behind even further in the set. Kansas came up huge when it needed to out of the timeout, answering with a 4-1 run, to tie the set at 21-21. Albers connected on consecutive kills to end the first set 25-23, while giving Kansas momentum heading into the second set with a 1-0 lead.
The second set began with both teams fighting back-and-forth. A diving save from Wait consecutive service aces from Jarmoc put Kansas ahead 8-4, forcing Wichita State into a timeout. Back-to-back kills from freshman Tayler Soucie pushed the Jayhawk lead out to 10-4 in the midst of a 7-0 run out of the timeout. Like in the first set, the Shockers answered the Kansas run with a 4-0 run of their own to inch back within three, 13-10. Kansas was leading 21-17 late in the set, when it was Albers who was once again called on to play the role of closing out the set for the Jayhawks. Albers answered, scoring three of the next four Jayhawk points to give Kansas a 24-18 lead. In the end, it was Jarmoc who knocked down her fourth kill of the set that ignited the Allen Fieldhouse crowd as it saw Kansas take a 25-19 victory in the set and a 2-0 lead in the match going into the intermission.
A poised Wichita State team opened the third set and the Shockers held a slim lead, 15-14 entering the media timeout. A short break to regroup seemed to be all the Shockers needed to start building a lead up on the Jayhawks. Wichita State was in the midst of a 7-1 run when Bechard took a timeout, trailing 19-15. Kansas wasn’t able to slow the Shocker attack as Wichita State extended its lead to six points, 23-17. It looked like Kansas still had some life facing set point 24-18, when two-straight points from a Jarmoc kill and an ace from Anderson gave Kansas new life. It was short-lived, though, as senior outside hitter Sam Sanders put an end to the Jayhawks’ hope for a sweep with a kill, to win the set 25-20.
Kansas opened the fourth set with a 2-1 lead in the match as both teams traded blows back-and-forth early. Wichita State took an early 10-7 lead in the set and looked to be building momentum. Kansas was able to one point twice, but the Shockers weathered the storm and pushed their lead back out to three both times eventually taking a 15-12 lead into the media timeout. After a Carmichael kill, Jarmoc picked up where Carmichael left off and threw down consecutive kills to finally get over the hump and tie the match at 15-15.
Wichita State was forced into a timeout after Kansas tied the set, but the Jayhawks pushed their lead to two points, 18-16 behind Wait’s third service ace of the night. Kansas could taste the victory after a Soucie block pushed the Jayhawks’ lead to 23-19. Wichita State was resilient and fought off the end of its season with two-straight points to trail 24-22 going into a Kansas timeout, but Albers ended the match with her career-high 17th kill to give Kansas a 25-22 win and admittance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas will face Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. First serve from Allen Fieldhouse is set for 6:30 p.m.