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Team effort, revamped production from Nwoke leads No. 11 Kansas to win over Texas Tech

After a slight decline in performance over the past two matches, sophomore middle blocker Mmachi Nwoke returned at full force to have one of her best offensive matches of the season Saturday when No. 11 Kansas beat Texas Tech.

In the win, Kansas (18-3, Big 12 7-1) extended its streak of sweeps over Texas Tech to five with a three-set victory (25-22, 25-18, 25-14).

Despite the Red Raiders’ loss, it wouldn’t have been unordinary for a particular Texas Tech outside hitter to spark a smile at Nwoke’s performance.

It was the first time Nwoke was on the other side of the net from Texas Tech sophomore Chandler Atwood. The two were teammates in 18U club volleyball when they were seniors in high school.

“When we were shaking hands, we were like ‘Oh, Hi!,’ you know,” Nwoke said with excitement. “Even after we were like ‘good game,’ but we still had that look like Hey!’”

Nwoke regained form on Saturday after two rough matches against Texas and Baylor where she had less than five kills in each. 

Offensively, Nwoke went on to finish with six kills on 10 swings without any attacking errors. Her efficiency of .600 was her best since her first start against Oklahoma, and second best of the entire season.

“I just had to reevaluate, just myself” Nwoke said. “I knew I needed to be more offensive so I really looked at that. I feel like defensively, I’m pretty good so I had to really focus [offensively].”

In the first set, Texas Tech showed it is not the same team it has been in years past. Systematically different under second-year coach Tony Graystone, the Red Raiders stayed within two points of the Jayhawks throughout the set until Kansas closed it with a 25-22 win.

“[Texas Tech] made as big of an improvement from last year to this year as any team in our league,” coach Ray Bechard said. “[Graystone is] doing an outstanding job … he’s building something really good there and I know he’s excited about it.”  

Kansas took a two-set lead with a 25-18 second-set win. After allowing the Red Raiders to reach a .176 attack percentage in the first set, Kansas held the Red Raiders to a .028 mark in the second set.

The stellar defense was aided by a standout middle-blocking duo of Nwoke and sophomore Zoe Hill. Hill recorded her fourth block in the second set, while Nwoke had one in the first set and her second in the third.

“[Hill and I] are definitely very competitive,” Nwoke said. “This is a very competitive team, I mean, we go head and head all the time but at the end of the day we’re teammates and we love each other.”

In the third set, Kansas’ offense proved to be too much for Texas Tech. With sophomore outside hitter Ashley Smith and freshman setter Annika Carlson getting extended playing time, Kansas was able to seal the victory.

“It was good to play everybody,” Bechard said. “It was great to get Annika out there, she’s been working hard, Ashley Smith has been practicing great, good to get her out there.”

Checking in for the second match of her career as the Jayhawks closed in on the win up 21-20, Carlson picked up her first three assists as a Jayhawk.

After Carlson assisted the final two kills from senior middle blocker Taylor Alexander and senior right side hitter Kelsie Payne, the bench rushed the court in excitement with Carlson in the center of it all.

“I think they were a little bit more excited because I got to go in,” Carlson said.

Kansas will enter its second round of home-and-home conference contests when Oklahoma comes to Lawrence next week. Earlier this season, Kansas came away with a 3-1 win over the Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma.

“We know defensively we’re getting better, we’ve got to smooth some things out offensively, and take every day and use it as an opportunity to get better,” Bechard said. “We’ve dug a lot of balls, and blocked a lot of balls last couple three weeks, and I think those reps are starting to kick in a little bit.”

Kansas will play Oklahoma at 6:30 p.m. at Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Wednesday. 

Source: Rock Chalk Talk

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