NORMAN — Oklahoma has had its share of problems when facing ranked teams this year. In five matches with top 25 teams, it had a 2-3 record entering this week.
On Wednesday, the Sooners had another chance to prove they belong alongside the nation’s elite when it faced No. 19 Kansas at McCasland Fieldhouse. Yet, despite being one set away from earning the win, Kansas came back to win the match 3-2.
“It’s disappointing,” OU coach Santiago Restrepo said. “A missed opportunity. I keep telling them about the opportunities that you have in this league. You have only a few times that you are going to play against ranked opponents, and you better take care of the opportunities. We didn’t tonight and we let it slip away.”
In only the Sooners’ third fifth set of the season, the energy and excitement it had been playing with was absent. Kansas took full advantage and jumped out to a 8-1 lead.
After an Oklahoma (15-6, 3-2 Big 12) time-out, they came back out and outscored KU (17-2, 5-0) 7-3 to pull within three. They had finally gotten back to the brand of volleyball they have to play to compete with the top teams.
However, it wasn’t enough as Kansas scored four of the next six points to win 15-10 and close out the match.
Oklahoma racked up 54 kills and 11 blocks on the night, despite playing without true freshman Madison Ward for the third straight game after she had shoulder surgery last week. However, KU controlled the beginning and end with 67 kills and 63 assists.
“We were up and down,” Restrepo said. “We didn’t play well in crunch time. And against a team like that, you have to play well in crunch time.”
The Sooners weren’t ready for what the Jayhawks brought to the table in the first set. KU came out throwing down kills and blocks, and OU had very little in the way of an answer as they dropped the set 25-16.
The second set was a different story all together. Oklahoma had a 18-15 lead and forced Kansas to call its first time-out of the night. Sallie McLaurin, Keila Rodriguez, Grace Whitley, Kierra Holst and Morgan Reynolds led the way to a 25-21 win. They then dominated the third 25-13.
“I think it was very important that we controlled the net,” said Holst, who had 10 kills. “It gave us a lot of energy. Gave us a lot of excitement every time we got a block or a kill. It put us in huge position to move ahead.”
The Sooners had an opportunity to close the door on a stunned Kansas in the fourth set. Needing only one more victory, they allowed the road team to hang around with them and keep the set close until KU took a 23-19 advantage. Caroline Jarmoc and Catherine Carmichael scored the last three points for Kansas and sent it into a final set.
OU is now 15-118 all time against ranked opponents. That includes a 14-60 record under Restrepo. The players know they are as talented as the teams they are playing against. They just have to prove it on the court consistently.
“We just have to believe in ourselves,” Mindy Gowen said. “We are a really good team. We just have to prove it to ourselves. It’s mostly just us holding back. We just have to let it go and see what happens.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org