NCAA Tournament: California Dreamin! Jayhawks Down Creighton, Advance
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers couldn’t have picked a bigger stage to turn in a career-high 18 kills and 17 digs for her seventh double-double of the season as No. 23 Kansas defeated Creighton in four sets, 25-20, 22-25, 25-22, 25-21 Saturday evening inside Allen Fieldhouse. The win gives the Jayhawks their first-ever berth into the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Albers finished the NCAA First and Second Rounds as the most consistent player for the Jayhawks, setting new career-highs in kills in both of Kansas’ (25-7) victories over Wichita State on Friday and Creighton (23-9) Saturday. In the Jayhawks’ five trips to the postseason, none of them ended in a Regional Round appearance – until now.
“Well I have been at it for quite a while and I guess if you stick around long enough it’s going to happen eventually,” laughed 16-year head coaching veteran Ray Bechard said. “It was tough last year and we didn’t forget that feeling. That’s what made it so cool tonight, the joy in that Fieldhouse. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group and this team. It wasn’t always pretty there tonight, but the effort was always there. And we are proud of that.”
It wasn’t just Albers who came up big when Kansas needed to get something going on offense. Sophomore outside hitter Tiana Dockery provided much-needed ignition off of the bench. Her 14 kills sparked the 3,052 fans inside Allen Fieldhouse, giving the Jayhawks crucial momentum it needed to fend off Creighton late in the match.
The Kansas offense recorded 59 kills compared to Creighton’s 49, in large part to receiving accurate passes from senior setter Erin McNorton. The Big 12 Setter of the Year dished-out 51 assists to the Jayhawks - becoming second all-time in Kansas Volleyball history for assists in a season with 1,488.
The Jayhawks turned in a stellar performance on the defensive side of the net, holding the Creighton offense to an attack percentage of .176. Kansas had five players record 10 or more digs in the victory while three Jayhawks dug-out 15 or more Bluejay kill-attempts, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Sept. 26, 2012 vs. No. 19 Iowa State.
Creighton was paced on the night by freshman middle blocker Lauren Smith whose 12 kills led the Bluejays in that category. Junior outside hitter Leah McNary was the only other player for Creighton to record double-digits in the kill column. Creighton came into the tournament as the second-best blocking team in the country and although they outdid the Jayhawks at the net, 11.5 to 9.0, KU racked up 82 digs to CU’s 69 – led by a career-high 19 digs from freshman Cassie Wait.
The match began with both teams experiencing their fair share of ups and downs until Creighton, who trailed 7-5 early, opened up a 5-0 run. Creighton held the lead until a surge from Kansas, led in large part by freshman middle blocker Tayler Soucie. Her three kills helped give the Jayhawks a 15-14 advantage going into the media timeout. With the score tied, 17-17, Wait recorded a diving save on a Bluejay kill attack and found McNorton who dished the ball to Dockery who slammed down a kill, sparking a 4-0 run to give the Jayhawks a 21-17 lead. Kansas was able to keep control through the end of the set, and much like the previous match, Albers answered, registering two of her five first-set kills during the last two points to give Kansas a 25-20 win.
Albers recorded the first three Jayhawk points in the second set, after two kills and a service ace, but Creighton was right on the Jayhawks’ heels throughout the first part of the set. Tied at 7-7, the Bluejays used a 4-0 run to take a four point lead, while forcing Bechard into taking a timeout. With the Jayhawk deficit remaining at four, 13-9, midway through the set a long rally ensued only to see Albers knock down another kill, then freshman setter Maggie Anderson served her third ace of the tournament, followed up with a block from redshirt seniors Catherine Carmichael and Caroline Jarmoc to cut the lead to one, 13-12.
Creighton wouldn’t surrender its lead. The Bluejays eventually pushed it back to four points, 23-19, going into a Kansas timeout. The Jayhawks resiliently never quit in the set, using a 3-0 run on a kill from Albers and two kills from Carmichael to cut the lead to one point, 23-22, only to see Creighton score two-straight to win the set 25-22 and tie the match at one set a piece.
The Jayhawks opened the set out of the intermission firing on all cylinders, scoring on four-straight points before Creighton got on the board, 4-1. The Bluejays answered with a 3-0 run of their own and cut the lead to one, 4-3, but a kill from Albers and consecutive kills from Carmichael pushed the Kansas lead back to four, 7-3, forcing Creighton into a timeout.
Creighton answered the out of the timeout with a 6-0 run, due in large part to four errors by the Jayhawks, to take its first lead of the third set 9-7 forcing Bechard into a timeout. The Kansas offense would come alive again by way of a 5-0 run to the set, 12-12. Two kills later, the Jayhawks had regained the lead. After battling back-and-forth for a few points the Jayhawk lead was two, 19-17 when senior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu dove to keep a ball alive. She was successful and the ball found its way across the net. A Dockery kill later, Creighton found itself in a tough position trailing 21-17 late in the set.
The Bluejays would take the Allen Fieldhouse crowd out of the set, however, by scoring five of the next six points and tying the match at 22-22 going into a Kansas timeout. Creighton had its chance to capitalize with possession of the serve out of the timeout, but a service error gave the Jayhawks the ball along with a point to now lead 23-22. A kill from Dockery gave the Kansas a 24-22 lead heading into set point and Albers like she had done all tournament long, finished the set off with a kill giving Kansas a 25-22 set-win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The Jayhawks took the momentum they built in the third set and feeding off of the energy from the crowd built up a 5-1 lead on two kills from junior outside hitter Sara McClinton, an ace from Wait and two kills from Jarmoc. When Kansas needed points to maintain its lead the team turned to two players off of the bench, Dockery and McClinton who had eight of the 15 Jayhawk points midway through the set, giving KU a 15-11 advantage.
Albers kept on the attack as her kill to give the Jayhawks a 19-13 lead was her 18th of the night setting a new career high for the outside hitter from Papillion, Neb. When it looked like Kansas was going to put Creighton away, holding a five-point lead, 22-17, Creighton cut into the deficit and found itself only trailing by two, 22-20. Kansas never faltered down the stretch, two points was the closest Creighton could get. Trailing 23-21, another Bluejay service error gave KU a three point lead, 24-21 and on the next point Albers and Soucie teamed up to block the final Bluejay attack, sealing a 25-21 set-win. The 3-1 victory in the match clinched a trip to Los Angeles, Calif. for the Jayhawks’ first trip the NCAA Tournament Regional Round.
Kansas will head to the Los Angeles Regional hosted by USC to face the winner of LSU and No. 3 Washington. The match is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 13. Match time will be announced when it’s available.