AMES, Iowa - Twenty-two times the 17th-ranked Kansas volleyball team tied the score against No. 22 Iowa State, but 14 kills from sophomore outside hitter Sara McClinton couldn't power the Jayhawks past the Cyclones, Wednesday at the Hilton Coliseum, 22-25, 21-25, 29-27, 23-25.
The second half of the Big 12 Conference season resulted in a predicted battle between a pair of top-25 teams as Kansas (19-4, 7-2) fought off match point six times in the third set and once more in the fourth before falling to Iowa State (12-7, 6-3). The Jayhawks' third set victory marked the first time KU took a frame in Ames since the 2004 season.
"We dug ourselves a hole in the first two sets, but I'm extremely proud of this team's fight tonight," head coach Ray Bechard said. "When the execution sharpens up a little bit and you compete like that, we're going to do good things."
Reigning AVCA National Player of the Week, redshirt junior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc led a Jayhawk defense that out-blocked the Cyclones, 14-8. She finished with nine blocks and 13 kills. McClinton, who joined Jarmoc on this week's Big 12 weekly honoree list, led the team with 14 kills and added a pair of blocks.
Outside hitters Catherine Carmichael and Tiana Dockery came in right below double-digits with nine and eight kills, respectively. Dockery's eight kills marked the most for her since recording 14 at Oklahoma on Oct. 10. Junior setter Erin McNorton dished out 44 assists, making her the first Jayhawk since the 2009 season to pass the 1,000-assist milestone in a season.
Riley led the back row with 17 digs, moving her into second all-time in career digs at Kansas (1,340).
For the Cyclones, sophomore outside hitter Victoria Hurtt led the floor with 17 kills, while seniors Jamie Straube and Rachel Hockaday added 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Junior libero, second in the league behind Riley in digs per set, led the defense with 24 digs. At the service line, the Cyclones posted seven to KU's three. Attack errors affected both sides of the floor as KU committed 29 errors and ISU collected 31 with neither team hitting over .200 on Wednesday.
In the opening frame, an ace from Jarmoc knotted the score early, 5-5, before the Cyclones broke loose for a 5-0 run. In the first 10 points of the match, ISU collected three aces to climb out to the 10-5 advantage. Another ace saw Kansas fall behind, 12-6, and Bechard asked for the timeout.
Out of the pause, Jarmoc and sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Albers teamed up for a block following senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree's first kill of the night to close the gap, 14-11. After getting out to a rocky start, hitting -.100 through the opening moments, Kansas swinging for a .333 clip midway through the set. Back-to-back attack errors narrowed the Cyclones' lead to a point and Kansas tied it with a block from McNorton and Tolefree.
Once they tied the set, the Jayhawks refused to allowed the Cyclones another opportunity for a big lead, tying it up four more times through the remainder of the first set. McClinton landed a kill to fight off set point, but a final blow from Hockaday handed KU just its fifth, first-set loss of the season, 25-22.
Jarmoc and McClinton led the offense with four kills apiece as KU outhit the home team, .273-.196 in the first set.
Their sixth ace of the match pushed the Cyclones ahead in the second set before a block and a Jayhawk attack error forced a Kansas timeout down, 10-4. Consecutive kills from McClinton helped the Jayhawks start diligently chipping away at the deficit. The Jayhawks received spurts of offense throughout the set, including two kills on Dockery's first two swings, to continue to whittle away at the Iowa State lead.
Three points later, junior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu sprinted under an ISU shot to keep the ball off the floor, ultimately leading to the Jarmoc-Dockery block that tied the set and prompted an Iowa State timeout, 13-13.
Again, a back-and-forth battle ensued. McClinton's seventh kill handed Kansas its first lead of the evening, 18-17, but the Cyclones raced back in front, 22-19. Ignoring the pressure of the final points looming, Dockery knocked down another kill. A ball-handling error would cut the ISU lead to one, but that marked the last point the Jayhawks would score as they headed to the break trailing 0-2 for just the second time this season, 25-21.
Dockery, McClinton and Jarmoc contributed three kills each, but their input couldn't offset 10 attack errors in the set.
Following the break, Kansas came out firing. After hitting a mere .049 in the second frame, Kansas ignited for a .375 hitting efficiency through the first half of the set. Dockery and Jarmoc both logged kills, while Jarmoc and Carmichael teamed up to reject a Cyclone attack to surge ahead, 5-1.
KU's largest lead of the night would quickly increase as four Jarmoc kills in the first nine points shot Kansas forward, 9-2. Two more kills from Dockery would help the Jayhawks keep their distance, 13-5, before Carmichael extended the night's largest lead further. Her kill gave KU an eight-point edge, 14-6.
As expected, ISU fired back. The Cyclones turned what once was an eight-point deficit into a 24-21 match point opportunity. Yet, the Jayhawks refused to lose. Fighting off match points six times, Kansas finally claimed the hard-earned set, 29-27.
Jarmoc led the third frame with five kills on a .444 attack percentage, while McNorton dished out 14 assists.
The fourth set got out to a 10-10 tie, cutting out the lopsided lead drama from the previous set. Kansas looked to build a weighted advantage with a 4-0 run that prompted an ISU timeout, but the Cyclones answered with a similar rally and the set continued to stay close.
That set up a familiar tone as the two battled to tie the score, 18-18, marking the 22nd time of the evening the two top-25 teams knotted it up. McClinton got in on a pair of block assists and a kill to help Kansas once again fight off a match point, but KU came up short, falling 25-23 in the decisive frame.
No. 17 Kansas comes home to welcome West Virginia to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center for the first time. The rare Monday match is set for Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m.