Jayhawks Open 2006 Season With Fall Practices

Aug. 8, 2006


Kansas head coach Ray Bechard and the Jayhawks opened two-a-day practices Aug. 8 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center with eight returning letterwinners and eight newcomers present and accounted for. Included in the returning eight are four starters and four veterans vying for significant playing time. Eight newcomers — consisting of two seniors, a redshirt freshman and five true freshman — will make an immediate impact on the program and add much-needed depth.

“We have a lot of new players that will give us a different look this season,” Bechard said. “We had great intensity day in and day out in spring practices and used the competition to really take it up a notch.”

The Jayhawks are coming off their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Bechard, entering his ninth season with the Jayhawks, is ready to guide the 2006 squad back to the postseason.

2006 Outlook

Front and Center — Middle Blockers
Returning at middle blocker this season is 6-3 sophomore Savannah Noyes (Indianola, Neb.), who started all 30 matches and averaged 1.69 kills per game as a freshman.

“I think Savannah’s numbers will really take a jump this year,” Bechard said. “As she improves her attacking and blocking skills, she will have even greater opportunities at middle blocker this season.”

Senior transfer Natalie Uhart (Lansing, Kan.) will be looked upon to fill the void left by four-time All-Big 12 selection Josi Lima. At 6-2, Uhart brings good size, athleticism and experience to the squad after a three-year stint at Long Beach State.

“Natalie, who was named 2006 Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, is expected to enter into the middle blocker position and be a contributing factor right away,” Bechard commented.

Also new to the program in 2006 is 6-1 freshman Paige Mazour (Franklin, Neb.), who will also contend for playing time in the middle.

“Paige is one of those athletes who can play a few positions but will train more at middle blocker,” Bechard said. “She is very athletic and will develop into a great volleyball player as she takes on the Big 12.”

Fellow rookie Brittany Williams (Atlanta, Ga.) will also have the opportunity to impress the coaching staff and earn a starting spot.

“Brittany, at 6-1, is a fast, dynamic athlete with a high level of energy,” Bechard said. “She will attempt to jump right in at middle blocker, but may be asked to redshirt.”

Outside Hitters Must Provide Spark
Senior Jana Correa, a 6-0 product of Macapa, Brazil, will return to start at outside hitter. Despite injuries that kept her out of 13 matches as a freshman and 14 as a junior, Correa is expected to return at 100 percent for her senior season. Correa averaged a team-leading 3.60 kills and added 2.29 digs per game in 14 matches last season.

“Our hopes are for Jana to have a healthy and productive year,” Bechard said. “She provides a major spark offensively and other parts of her game — like her serving and back row defense — have really improved. She’s really become a complete six-rotation player.”

Also returning on the outside is 6-1 senior Megan Hill (Lincoln, Neb.). Hill saw significant playing time in 2005 when she stepped in for the injured Correa and averaged 1.48 kills per game in 24 matches.

“Megan will definitely contend for significant playing time,” Bechard added. “The little extra things are what will put her over the top.”

New to the Kansas hitting corps is Isadora Rangel, a Sao Paulo, Brazil, native. The 6-1 freshman brings international experience to the squad and is expected to make an immediate impact.

“Isadora will play right side or left side hitter and will possibly be looked upon to be a six-rotation player,” Bechard said. “She is a solid player with a great understanding of the game.”

Leading the charge on the right side is returning starter Emily Brown (Baldwin City, Kan.). The 6-2 hitter/setter is coming off a solid sophomore campaign that proved her versatility and talent at many different positions. In 2005, Brown saw time as a right side/outside hitter, setter and primary passer — just to name a few. She averaged 2.99 kills and 2.20 digs per game and led the Jayhawks with an impressive 0.40 service aces per game, good for second in the Big 12.

“Emily’s role will be extended even more this season,” Bechard said. “She will play many different roles and have the opportunity to set more if we utilize a 6-2 offense.”

Moving from middle blocker to the right side in 2006 is junior Caitlin Mahoney (St. Louis, Mo.). At 6-1, Mahoney saw increased playing time late in the season in 2005 and gained valuable experience in the starting lineup.

“We moved Caitlin over to the right side this season and she is getting more comfortable there,” Bechard commented. “Moving her to the right side has helped her focus more on the block and improve her transition skills.”

Setting the Bar
After redshirting the 2005 season, highly-touted freshman Katie Martincich (Shawnee, Kan.) is KU’s top contender at setter this year. Martincich had the opportunity to train with four-year starter Andi Rozum in 2005 and is primed to take an instrumental role in leading the Jayhawk offense.

“With Katie in the lineup, we are hoping to run a 6-2 offensive this season,” Bechard said. “Katie will be outstanding for a lot of reasons. She is an excellent teammate, has good size, foot speed and decision-making skills — all things you look for in a good setter.”

Adding depth at setter is senior Linsey Morningstar (Lawrence, Kan.), who after three seasons at Temple, transferred back to her hometown for a final year of eligibility. Morningstar, also a defensive specialist, led the Owls with 0.33 aces and ranked second on the squad with 2.27 assists per game in 2005.

“Linsey comes to the program with three years of Division I experience,” Bechard said. “She will have the opportunity to contribute in a number of ways, giving us a competitive depth at the setting position.”

Brown and freshman Sarah Wittenauer (Mission Viejo, Calif.) round out the Jayhawk setters. Wittenauer, listed as a 5-7 defensive specialist/setter, brings a wide range of skills to the back row and serving line.

“Sarah can score points with her great serve and is equipped with a setting background,” Bechard said. “She will give us the most depth we have ever had at the setting position.”

Defensive Specialists Dig It

Returning at the libero spot is senior Jamie Mathewson. The 5-8 Kansas City, Mo., native proved her athleticism and talent as a junior, leading the Jayhawk offense with 3.32 digs per game.

“Jamie did a great job last year in the libero role and we will expect even more from her as a senior,” Bechard said. “She is an emotional catalyst for our defense.”

Another top defender is senior Dani Wittman, a product of Salina, Kan. As a junior, Wittman averaged a career-best 1.50 digs per game in 21 matches and is expected to make an impact again in 2006.

“Dani continues to work hard and at times played a significant role last season,” Bechard said. “She will have another opportunity to extend that role and do a number of good things for us like serve and be a primary passer.”

Also returning to the Jayhawk defense this season is sophomore Liz Ingram (Iowa City, Iowa), who saw action in 19 matches as a freshman.

“Liz is a good athlete who moved into a significant role on defense and behind the serving line as a freshman,” Bechard commented. “We expect her to contend for significant minutes this year as she develops her defense.”

New to the defense this year is freshman Melissa Grieb (Olathe, Kan.), a product of nearby Olathe South High School. Listed as a 5-9 defensive specialist/libero, Grieb will join Mathewson, Wittman, Ingram, Morningstar and Wittenauer as KU’s deep defensive unit in 2006.

“Melissa had a great high school career and was an all-around athlete who will mostly concentrate on back-line skills,” Bechard added. “She will be working as the defensive specialist and could make an impact early.”

The Coaching Staff
Bechard (Grinnell, Kan.) is entering his ninth season as head coach of the Jayhawks. He is 138-108 in eight seasons at KU and carries a career coaching record of 854-168 over 21 seasons. He led the Jayhawks to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003 and earned postseason bids in 2004 and 2005. Bechard is assisted by Jill Jones Stucky (Goodland, Kan.), who is in her ninth season at KU, and Christi Posey (Wichita, Kan.), who has been coaching the Jayhawks for seven seasons.

The 2006 Schedule
Another challenging schedule awaits the Jayhawks in 2006. KU will open its 32nd season of competition in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Aug. 25 and play a total of 10 non-conference contests before Big 12 play begins Sept. 13 at Nebraska.

Highlighting the Jayhawks’ non-conference schedule are matches against Arkansas, BYU and Alabama. KU will open the season Aug. 25-26 at the 2006 Crimson Tide Invitational and play its first home match of the season Aug. 29 against UMKC. The Jayhawks will then compete in a tournament at Temple (Philadelphia, Pa.) with the Owls, Rutgers and Maine.

KU hosts its annual Jayhawk Classic Sept. 8-9 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center and will compete against 2005 NCAA Tournament teams BYU and Arkansas.

In-state rival Kansas State comes to town Oct. 11 while national powerhouse Nebraska visits Horejsi on Senior Night (Nov. 22), which will honor KU’s six seniors. The Border Showdown continues on Nov. 18 when Missouri comes to Lawrence.

“Early in our schedule we will face three NCAA Tournament teams in Alabama, BYU and Arkansas,” Bechard said. “Miami was an NCAA Sweet 16 team just a few years ago and we have one of the toughest Big 12 slates ever. It will be quite demanding, but we have to prepare ourselves in non-conference competition before opening up Big 12 play with Nebraska and Texas.”