Host Kansas Jayhawks volleyball team falls to Big Ten’s Penn State in NCAA Tournament

Big Ten powerhouse Penn State, which has won seven NCAA volleyball championships, eliminated Kansas in a second-round 2023 tournament match Friday night at sold-out Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.

The 3-2 battle was close as could be throughout. Penn State, which last won a national title in 2014, was able to withstand not only an exceedingly loud crowd, but also a career-high 29-kill effort from KU senior graduate transfer Reagan Cooper.

The former Texas Tech standout was joined in double-figure kills by London Davis, who had 13. Mykayla Myers and Ayah Elnady had eight kills apiece for the Jayhawks. Jess Mruzik had 21 kills, Camryn Hannah 17.

Taylor Trammell and Zoe Weatherington had 10 kills apiece for the Nittany Lions, who improved to 23-8. KU’s season ends at 24-6.

The match was undecided until Maddy Bilinovic elected to tap a serve over the net instead of hit it deep. The ball fell in front of diving KU freshman Raegan Burns, and Penn State had a 15-13 victory in the fifth and deciding set.

Penn State won the first set 25-20. KU took the second 25-22. Penn State won the third 25-21 and KU the fourth, 25-13.

“Hats off to Kansas,” Penn State coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley said. “It was a battle. Both teams back and forth the entire match. We’re happy we’re getting out with a win.”

Cooper’s 29 kills tied a KU record for most kills in a five-set match. Karina Garlington had 29 kills in a match against Iowa State in 2008.

KU coach Ray Bechard was thoroughly impressed with his team’s effort in such a close match.

“It was 2 hours and 40 minutes of really good volleyball. It was an honor to be part of that with this team,” Bechard said. “Congratulations to Penn State for moving on. I told our team we didn’t lose, we ran out of points, ran out of time.

“That felt more like an Elite Eight (or) Final Four match than second round. I couldn’t be more proud of our group. We gave it everything we had. Everybody in attendance saw something special tonight.”

Of her performance, former Texas Tech star Cooper said: “I’m really proud of this team, so happy I made the decision to come here. No regrets. To be able to end on a high note feels good.”