As fans streamed into Koch Arena for Wichita State’s NCAA regional match against Radford, the support for Kansas’ volleyball team increased.
Many WSU fans seemed to turn their support toward the No. 19 Jayhawks in the night’s opening match with Missouri, perhaps hoping for a Saturday final between in-state competitors.
Whatever the reason, KU seemed to gain energy as the noise level elevated. KU shook off an unenthusiastic third set to win the fourth, but Missouri rediscovered its oomph in the decisive fifth set. The Tigers advanced to Saturday’s regional final, and quelled the chances for a WSU-KU match, with a 25-23, 15-25, 25-15 20-25, 15-10 win.
Saturday’s final is at 7 p.m., but it won’t feature a long-standing rivalry like those between KU and WSU or, especially, Missouri and KU.
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“We don’t focus on things that going on around us,” Missouri hitter Kira Larson said. “The only thing we’re focused on is everything on the court. We’re not distracted by other things. Yeah, they were getting loud and we could feel it, but I was in that match and so were all the other girls.”
The teams traded set wins – Missouri (21-11) won the odds, Kansas the evens. After a KU rally to win the fourth, the Jayhawks had two errors to start the fifth and Missouri took a 6-1 lead. KU rallied to 10-8 before Missouri scored five of the final seven points.
“We knew we had to take the momentum early and when we didn’t, that’s almost an impossible hole to get out of,” KU senior Anise Havili said.
The Jayhawks (22-8) appeared lethargic during a disastrous third set. Missouri’s aggressive play forced KU into a defensiveness that the Tigers (seized upon with 18 kills and a .417 hitting percentage. Dariana Hollingsworth had six kills and Kira Larson had three, which she reached or exceeded in the first four sets.
That followed an uninspiring second set for Missouri, when Missouri had more errors than kills and were hampered by KU’s blockers and superior hitting. Kelsie Payne, whose error ended the first set, had three second-set kills to help KU tie it 1-1.
KU failed to match that effectiveness in the third set and was held below 16 points for the third time this season, the first two by Texas and Kansas State. Between the second and third sets, Missouri’s kills increased from six to 18, its digs from 22, and its errors dropped from 10 to 3.
“You just look at the scores and you can see what kind of battle it was,” Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said.
Those trends continued to start the fourth set as Missouri scored nine of the first 14 points. KU’s turnaround coincided with apparent added fan support. The Jayhawks scored six straight to take a 10-9 lead then mostly controlled the set from there, holding off Missouri’s rallies.
Missouri did the same to KU in the fifth set, ending the careers of Jayhawks stalwarts such as Havili, Payne and Madison Rigdon.
“Four years goes by fast,” Payne said.
Saturday’s second round
At Koch Arena
Missouri (21-11) vs. Radford-WSU winner, 7 p.m.
Note: Go to Kansas.com for a story from Friday’s late Shocker match.