Raucous cheers and the Rock Chalk Chant filled the Horejsi Family Athletics Center as the Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats on Wednesday night. The atmosphere mimicked Allen Fieldhouse, and the band's energetic performance echoed off the tin walls.
The win was taxing. It was a grind. During the match, there were 37 ties and 17 lead changes. Each and every set was close (25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-21).
During the fourth and final set, the tension in the court was unparalleled to anything from this season, especially after a long and grueling rally.
Sophomore libero Addison Barry was the fuel to Kansas' fire as she subbed in when the team was down 10-12. Once she hit the court, the Jayhawks ignited a bigger flame.
"You could just feel the electricity in the gym when she got that first dig, when she got that second dig, the whole time she was in there," said junior libero Cassie Wait. "She was the main proponent in that super long rally. Her coming in and electrifying the gym was awesome and we really appreciate having any teammate at any time who can come in and do that."
That electricity Wait talked about was contagious. Junior middle blocker Tayler Soucie threw her fist in the air with a loud, celebratory yell each and every time Kansas scored. The energy in the Jayhawks' huddle seemed more spirited than in any game before.
To them, Big 12 play is a whole new ball game. Wait said the team looks at conference play as a completely different and segmented season.
For every home match during nonconference season, the general admission seats would fill a few minutes before first serve. For Kansas State, there were few seats left 30 minutes before lineups were announced.
"Big 12 play matters to Kansas fans," coach Ray Bechard said a few weeks ago.
That passion for the conference season showed on Wednesday night, even though Kansas didn't have the prettiest of wins.
"Welcome to the Big 12," Bechard said. "It's going to be like that. You're going to have to grind out wins and work extremely hard against a good team."
Sophomore right side hitter Kelsie Payne said at one point she looked up at the scoreboard when a set was still in single digits, thinking that the set was 23-23.
That's something that didn't happen in nonconference play. The majority of Kansas' matches were over quickly. This one, in the words of Wait, was full of grit and hard work.
But that's Big 12 volleyball. And there's a lot more of it to come.
— Edited by Minami Levonowich