LAWRENCE, Kan. (KUAthletics.com) – No. 15 Kansas won a marathon four-set volleyball battle with UCF 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-21, 28-26) before a sold-out crowd on Senior Day at the Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.
The match was Kansas’ Senior Day honoring Jayhawks Reagan Cooper, Mykayla Myers, Kennedy Farris, Molly Schultz, Kim Whetstone and Kaiti Parks, along with senior manager Emily Jones. The group was honored both pre- and post-match for its various contributions to the program.
Kansas improved to 23-5 and 14-4 in the 2023 Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks finished alone in second place in the Big 12 regular-season marking its highest finish since KU won the 2016 league title. UCF dropped to 17-12 and 8-10 in its first season in the Big 12, tying for eighth.
“We made a lot of good volleyball plays at the end of all three sets that we won today,” said Kansas Head Coach Ray Bechard. “We’re very proud of the regular season we had and how hard this team competed for each other. We look forward to Selection Sunday tomorrow.”
Kansas posted a 14-1 home record during the 2023 regular season, including a perfect 9-0 against Big 12 competition. Kansas recorded 10 matches with 3-0 sweeps during its home season and UCF was just the fourth team to extend a match in Horejsi past three sets.
The opening set went back and forth from the start with seven ties through the first 16 points. Knotted at 8-8, Kansas went on a three-point run highlighted by kills from Cooper and junior Ayah Elnady to force a UCF timeout. Down 13-10, the Knights went on a 6-1 run to take a 16-14 lead, forcing a Kansas timeout. The Jayhawks would score the next six points to go up 20-16, forcing a second visitor’s timeout. The KU run was senior based with two kills from Cooper, one from Myers and two aces from Schultz. Kansas would keep its lead down the stretch, winning the set 25-21. Elnady would pace KU in the opening set with a team-high five kills in seven attacks for a blistering .714 hitting percentage.
The second set was another slugfest in that there were 11 early ties and neither team led by more than two points before the media timeout with UCF holding a 15-14 edge. The Knights would go on a 4-1 run to take a 19-16 lead forcing Kansas to call a timeout. UCF went on to score three of the next four points en route to winning the second set 25-21.
UCF kept its momentum from set two into set three taking a 5-2 early lead. Up 8-5, the Knights would score three of the next four points forcing a KU timeout with the home team trailing 11-6. Kansas would continue to claw back and cut the score to 16-14 highlighted by three kills from Cooper, another from junior London Davis and an ace from sophomore Brynn Kirsch. Down 18-14, Kansas went on a 6-3 run to make the score 21-20. Cooper led the charge with three kills, while Davis and Elnady would add another, forcing a UCF timeout. A kill by Elnady and ace from Kirsch would tie the set at 22-22, forcing UCF’s second timeout. Kansas would take its first lead of the set, 23-22, on an Elnady kill. A UCF in the net and kill from Elnady would end the set giving the home team a 25-22 set win. Cooper led KU with seven kills in the third set, while Elnady had six, including three of KU’s final five set points.
Set four followed the same path as the previous three sets as the highly-competitive match continued. Afterward, describing the match, KU coach Ray Bechard would tell the crowd, “It was like sitting in a dentist chair for two hours.”
Down 13-10 in set four, Kansas would score three-straight points highlighted by a Davis kill to tie the match at 13-13. KU would take its first set lead, 14-13, on an Elnady kill. Once again, both teams battled down the stretch. With the score tied at 20-20, Kansas would go up 22-20 on kills from Cooper and Davis. UCF would tie the set at 22-22 and KU would score the next two points on kills from Cooper and Elnady. The visiting side would then score two straight fighting off a match point and knotting the set at 25-25. Right after, the Knights would take a 26-25 lead forcing a KU timeout. UCF would win what appeared to be a marathon final point, but the point was overturned due to a player in the net, tying the set at 26-26. Kirsch would then serve out the set, and match, highlighted by a junior Toyosi Onabanjo block solo and Elnady kill to win the set 28-26.
Elnady posted a match-high 24 kills, which were one shy of her career high and her second 20-kill match of the season. Cooper’s 20 kills marked her fourth 20-kill match of the season. She hit a team-best .462 for the match. Davis posted nine kills, while junior Camryn Turner led KU with 14 digs, one ahead of freshman Raegan Burns’ 13. Turner’s 52 assists marked her fourth 50-assist match of the season and Kirsch’s three service aces were a career high.
As a team, Kansas outhit UCF .310 to .295 and the Jayhawks posted 11.0 blocks to UCF’s 3.0. Myers paced KU with seven total blocks, while Elnady, Davis and Onabanjo had three each.
Kansas will learn its postseason fate when the NCAA Tournament selection show is announced on Sunday, Nov. 26, at 5 p.m. CT on ESPN. First and second rounds for the 2023 NCAA Tournament will be Thursday-Friday, Nov. 30-Dec. 1 or Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 2-3 at sites to be determined. Kansas has placed a bid to host first and second rounds. NCAA Regionals will be Dec. 7 and 9 with sites yet to be announced. The national semifinals will be Dec. 14 and the finals Dec. 17 in Tampa, Florida.
The Jayhawks have made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, including each of the last two seasons in 2021 and 2022. KU advanced to the 2021 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 and to the round of 32 last year. In 2015, the Jayhawks reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas NCAA Tournament appearances – 2003, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022.