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It’s home, sweep home as host KU Jayhawks blank Omaha to open NCAA volleyball tourney

The University of Kansas volleyball players enjoyed the experience of playing on their home court in a first-round NCAA Tournament match against Omaha on Thursday night at sold-out, extremely loud Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.

“It is so familiar it takes a layer of nervousness off the table,” KU junior setter Camryn Turner said after the Jayhawks’ 3-0 sweep of Omaha in a match played before 1,662 supportive fans.

The KU victory set up a second-round match against Penn State, a 3-1 winner over Yale in the other first-round contest played Thursday at Horejsi. The second-round Big Ten/Big 12 match will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, again at Horejsi.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to play before sellouts all year,” KU junior outside hitter Caroline Bien said. “Today was a little different. There were a few more people than we normally have. The energy was awesome.”

The crowd seemed to have a great time from start to finish, singing the school’s fight song as they exited the arena.

“I’d come watch this team, too. They play hard, play together and play the right way,” KU coach Ray Bechard said after the Jayhawks’ 15th straight home victory — KU improved to 24-5 overall.

Texas Tech senior transfer Reagan Cooper had 11 kills, while junior hitter Ayah Elnady had seven kills. Junior hitter London Davis had six kills and junior middle blocker Toyosi Onabanjo four kills.

Turner, a Topeka native, had 27 assists and 10 digs. Omaha (15-14) was led by McKenna Ruch and Amanda Hardt, who had eight kills apiece.

“Congratulate Omaha on a great season and the way they fought tonight,” Bechard said.

KU won by scores of 25-16 and 25-19, and then a narrow 28-26.

“They are different to play. The tempo they play at is different than what we see in the Big 12. We served well, scored well down the stretch when we needed to. Obviously we’re excited to advance,” Bechard added.

His team showed him something special Thursday before the enthusiastic crowd.

“This team is more interested in playing together as long as they can,” Bechard said. “This group is so tight and so excited every time they gather. Their main objective is to extend the opportunity to play together as long as we can.”

Penn State (22-8) advanced by upending Yale of the Ivy League 25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 25-16.

“It’ll be critical to create some offensive balance. We are capable of doing that. We know we’ll have people ready for that moment,” Bechard said.

The winner of the Penn State-KU match moves on to the Sweet 16. The loser’s season is over.