LAWRENCE, Kan. – Sophomore outside hitter Sara McClinton had 16 kills to lead the No. 11 overall-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in a win Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 17-25, 25-10, 25-16, 25-18, in front of 3,551 fans Friday night inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.
McClinton, an Omaha, Neb. native, totaled 14 of her 16 kills in the final two sets and finished the match with a .419 hitting percentage. Her second-half surge helped Kansas (26-6) bounce back from a first-set loss and win three-straight over Cleveland State (23-7).
“I’m glad we got through the first set and moved onto the second one,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “You never know how a team’s going to react in a situation like that. Obviously, it wasn’t our best opening-set performance, but I think what’s important is how we responded after that. We settled down a little bit and got things back under control. We had 10 hitting errors in the first set alone and five combined in the last three sets. You should credit Cleveland State, too, for coming in and creating energy on their side of the net. That’s a team that won 13-straight, so we’re pleased to be moving on.”
Kansas now moves on to face No. 3 seed Wichita State after the Shockers rallied from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the second-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks in the first match of the day. Kansas and Wichita State will square off in the second round, Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Junior setter Erin McNorton facilitated the Kansas attack with 45 assists and helped out on defense by adding 13 digs to record her 11th double-double of the season. Along with McNorton’s effort, KU’s all-time digs leader, junior libero Brianne Riley added 16 to her total, to solidify the Jayhawks’ back row. Senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree finished the match with six blocks, while fellow middle, redshirt junior Caroline Jarmoc, totaled five blocks to lead the KU defense at the net.
The Vikings were led by senior middle hitter Marie Frease who finished the match with 13 kills and a .286 hitting percentage. The Cleveland State defense was led by senior outside hitter Kara Koch who finished the match with 19 digs combined with 10 kills for the double-double. At the net, junior right side Jackie Dabbelt totaled four blocks for the match.
The Vikings came out hot to open up the first set, connecting on eight of the first ten points, to build an early advantage, 8-2, and force Bechard to call an early timeout. The Jayhawks came back with three-straight points out of the timeout to pull within three. With the Viking lead cut to two, Cleveland State used a 4-0 run to open their its back up to six, 16-10, and force another KU timeout. The Jayhawks connected on the first three points, but it wouldn’t be enough to stop the Vikings’ momentum. Cleveland State would claim seven of the next eight points to extend their lead, 14-23. The Vikings would eventually close out the set on a service error from the Jayhawks, 17-25. Redshirt junior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael led the Jayhawk offense in the set recording four kills.
After dropping the first set, the Jayhawks came out hot in the second, connecting on six of the first seven points and forcing the Vikings to call their first timeout of the night. The Jayhawks would continue their hot streak with a 10-1 run midway through the set, to put the set out of reach early, 18-5. Cleveland State would not be able to recover, eventually falling 25-10 to the Jayhawks. The 15-point margin of victory was the largest in any set this year for KU. Albers, Tolefree and Jarmoc all recorded two kills with a .667 hitting percentage to lead the Jayhawk offense. The trio also combined for eight total blocks in the set to lead the KU defense.
Early runs from both teams defined the beginning of the third set. With the score tied at seven, the Jayhawks used a 3-0 run to build their largest lead of the set to that point, 10-7. With Cleveland State within one, 12-11, Kansas used a 4-0 run to gain some separation, 16-11, from the Vikings. That margin would be all the Jayhawks needed, closing the set, 25-16, with a 6-0 run to take a 2-1 advantage into the fourth set. McClinton paced the KU offense in the set recording a team-high seven kills with a .636 hitting percentage.
The Jayhawks carried their momentum into the fourth set, connecting on five of the first six points in the set. Cleveland State fought back to bring the score within one, 9-8, before the Jayhawks connected on three-straight points to force a Vikings timeout, 12-8. Another 3-0 run midway through the set, would extend the Kansas lead even further, 18-11, and the Jayhawks would cruise from there, closing out the Vikings, 25-18, to finish out the match. McClinton added seven more kills with a .700 hitting percentage to lead the Kansas offense. Junior setter Erin McNorton facilitated the KU offense that hit .438 in the set with 15 assists. Defensivley the Jayhawks were led by Tolefree, who added two total blocks.
The 11th-seeded Jayhawks will take the court again Saturday, at 6:30 p.m., when they take on Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament inside historic Allen Fieldhouse.