In a Big 12 Conference matchup against West Virginia on Wednesday, Kansas’ experience proved to be its most valuable asset. Playing against a team with eight freshmen and only three upperclassmen, the Jayhawks’ experience allowed them to extend rallies and win points — something a young Mountaineers team couldn’t keep up with.
Kansas started strong with a big kill by super-senior opposite Anezka Szabo, a constant contributor throughout the match who would finish with 10 kills and seven blocks. Szabo’s second kill of the game evened the score at 5-5 early on, and the Jayhawks and Mountaineers continued to trade blows throughout the first set.
Freshman libero and defensive specialist Brynn Kirsch continued to impress in her third straight match as Kansas’ libero, posting a team-best .947 reception percentage and racking up 18 of Kansas’ 62 digs.
West Virginia then went on a 3-0 run in the middle of the first to force Kansas to call its first timeout of the match. At this point, the Mountaineers had aced the Jayhawks three times already and were hitting .320 compared to Kansas’ .250 hitting percentage.
Errors proved costly for the Jayhawks in the first set, as four errors set them behind West Virginia 19-23. This deficit proved to be too much to overcome, and an attack error by graduate middle blocker Lauren Dooley lost Kansas the match 23-25.
The second set started a bit slower for the Jayhawks, but some West Virginia attacking and service errors kept them in it. The score was knotted at 4-4 before the Mountaineers went on a 4-0 run and forced Kansas to take an early timeout.
Four quick kills by sophomore outside hitter Caroline Bien sandwiched between two Dooley blocks gave the Jayhawks their first lead of the set at 13-11 and triggered West Virginia’s first timeout. Bien and Dooley continued to hold it down on offense and defense as the set continued, with contributions from Szabo and red-shirt freshman outside Ayah Elnady propelling Kansas to a 23-15 lead.
The lead quickly began to dwindle after attack errors, and two service aces by WVU’s junior libero Skye Stokes brought the Mountaineers back within three, but eventually, a Stokes service error would win Kansas the game 25-23.
After winning a close second set, the Jayhawks found some early momentum in set three as they established a 10-6 lead on two kills and an ace from Elnady. The Mountaineers began to inch closer, though, as they had well-placed balls and were able to capitalize on some of Kansas’ defensive miscues.
This set finally proved that experience does pay off, as a multitude of errors by a young West Virginia team coupled with clean Kansas play put the Jayhawks ahead 21-18. West Virginia then took its first timeout but coming out of this regroup committed two more errors forcing another timeout from Head Coach Reed Sunahara. After this, the score stood at 23-19, and West Virginia began to pressure the Jayhawks with a strong offensive attack.
This plan proved futile, though, as Kansas won set three 25-21 on a Kirsch ace.
Set four showcased a leader on West Virginia’s squad: fifth-year outside hitter Adrian Ell. Ell tallied six kills in the fourth set alone, and midway through the set, she already had a triple-double by racking up 16 kills, 19 assists and 13 digs. Ell played six rotations for the entire game and led the team in kills (18) and attempts (41) and placed second in hitting percentage (.341), digs (14), and assists (19).
The middle-hitter duo of Dooley and super-senior Rachel Langs kept Kansas afloat during a series of miscommunications early on as the Jayhawks took a timeout down 6-9.
Coming out of the timeout, Kirsch showed off her impressive defense in a series of long rallies, and her pancake save on a 9-12 point set up a Dooley kill to get Kansas within three. Bien then tallied three kills in a row, coupled with a West Virginia net violation that brought the Jayhawks within one point.
The offenses traded off points until a Bien/Dooley block of Ell won Kansas the fourth set and the match with a score of 26-24.
In this match, Bien tallied a double-double while Kirsch continued to impress in her new role as a full-time libero. WVU’s young team fought hard against the more experienced Jayhawks and proved a worthy opponent in Big 12 play.
Kansas will have some time off before its next game at TCU on Oct. 26 at 6:00 p.m. CT. The game will be available to watch on the BIG 12 Now Network along with ESPN+.