Addison Barry and Allie Nelson couldn’t help but smile.
As the two best friends and littles — back row players — on the No. 11 KU volleyball team stood together outside the locker room following a four-set win (14-25, 25-21, 25-15, 25-22) over K-State, they simply started to laugh.
Barry, usually called upon for her serving in key moments, played a significant role in the match, as did several other Jayhawks in the absence of senior Madison Rigdon.
“What’s it like?” Barry said with a big grin. “I’ve been doing it for four years, so I must really like it.”
While Rigdon, a former All-American honorable mention, worked back from an undisclosed injury, the Jayhawks shuffled their pieces.
Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Smith took her place in the starting lineup. As the match progressed, the Jayhawks used three-little groupings that saw any combination of Barry, Nelson, Tori Miller and Jacqui Mostrom take the floor to halt any budding K-State momentum.
“I love when Addie is on the court. She’s super fun,” said Nelson. “We have a great time together.”
“We’re the little people,” Barry added. “Let’s represent for all those small girls out there trying to play a big girl’s sport.”
That they certainly did.
The Jayhawks’ offense was nowhere to be found in the first set, as the team posted a hitting percentage of .000. But the Jayhawks rebounded in the second set with a strong defensive performance, overcoming an early deficit and putting together a late 4-0 run to gut out a win.
“This is really bringing out the nitty gritty,” Barry said. “Mad Dawg (has) big shoes to fill.”
And by the time the later sets rolled around, so too did the offense.
Zoe Hill, who finished second on the team with 11 kills, woke up the crowd with a pair of energetic kills. Kelsie Payne, who began the night 46 kills shy of Josi Lima for first on the KU all-time list, continued to inch closer to that mark, totalling 14 kills and seven digs.
Once the Jayhawks got rolling, the only thing that could stop them was time.
One point away from clinching the win, the Jayhawks watched as K-State’s Bryna Vogel hit the floor, favoring her left knee as she pounded at the ground in pain. The point was blown dead. Several K-State staff members rushed the court to check on her as the KU players looked on in angst.
“I think we were all heartbroken for her,” Nelson said.
After a delay of a few minutes, play resumed — at least until K-State challenged a call at the net on the preceding point.
Again, the Jayhawks returned to the sideline to wait. Eventually, the call was upheld and the ensuing point commenced, where a block by Payne and Taylor Alexander finished off the four-set victory over the Wildcats.
It wasn’t the prettiest of matches for the Jayhawks (20-4, 9-2 Big 12), who, like a recent outing against Oklahoma, looked sluggish from the start before waking up later on.
This time around, though, the Jayhawks caught on much quicker. They made short work of the Wildcats (9-16, 2-10) in the third set before closing things out in the fourth.
“Everybody’s got to do their part,” said coach Ray Bechard. “This will make us a better team if we can (survive) ..."
He interrupted himself.
“When we will survive this. Eventually, Rigdon will be back,” Bechard said. “And when she does, you can’t trade this experience Ashley, Addie, all these people are getting, ‘cause you never know down the stretch when that’s going to be really valuable.”