Season Outlook: Jayhawks Combine Youth, Leadership to Focus on 2011 Goals

Aug. 15, 2011

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with five members of the starting rotation and the full-time libero from a year ago, Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard will have a full arsenal of leadership complemented by a talented crew of underclassmen in 2011.

“It’s always special,” Bechard said about starting his 14th season at Kansas. “There’s the freshmen apprehension, the returners and the `here we go again.’ When they walk out of the locker room that first time, even though I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, there is just this buzz I get – `Here we go, here we go.’ It never gets old.”

A pair of Super-State freshmen will join a Jayhawk volleyball team ready to vie for its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons. Back-to-back seasons of winning records complete with marquee victories against top-25 opponents have Bechard focused on the task at hand heading into the fall.

“The good and bad of last year was there were many very good wins, but in the end we were still a little bit short of what our goal was – the NCAA Tournament,” Bechard said. “Obviously, we played on many occasions at a level that was good enough to be included with that group. Looking back now, we just need to find how to be at that `good’ level with some consistency.”

The Jayhawks landed on the side Bechard preferred several times last fall, as the team finished the 2010 campaign with a 17-14 overall record and an 8-12 mark in Big 12 action. The 11 victories in front of the KU faithful at Horejsi Family Athletics Center tied for the most under Bechard’s watch, and included the Jayhawks’ upset of No. 10 Iowa State.

“This year, I’m looking for a little more consistency and closing out some teams that we had the opportunity to close out,” Bechard said. “There were a lot positives from last year, but obviously the ultimate goal is to be included in that group that plays in the NCAA Tournament.”

This summer, the Jayhawks spent nearly two weeks in Europe where they posted a 5-2 record in seven matches. Aside from strengthening pre-existing team chemistry, the time away proved even more beneficial for the 10 sophomores on the roster. The underclassmen crew gained a lot of in-game experience and now enter their second year with an advantage to meet their increased expectations.

“There aren’t a lot of sophomores who’ve played almost 40 matches and had an extra 10 days of practice,” Bechard said. “We can’t sit back and say we practiced and played a lot this summer so now we’re better. We’ve got to use that as a springboard and determine what we’ve learned from this. What did we get better at and what can we identify as some things we can tighten up before we get rolling.”

Letterwinners lost (4): Karina Garlington, Melissa Manda, Mel Townsend and Jenna Kaiser
Newcomers (3): Chelsea Albers (Fr./OH) Taylor Manning (RS So./MB/OH) and Sara McClinton (Fr./OH)

With the departure of Karina Garlington, the second-ranked all-time kills leader in program history, the Jayhawks lose a powerful scoring source. Garlington’s 3.51 kills per set (kps) led the team and ranked seventh in the Big 12 last season. Defensively, Melissa Manda (2.58 dps) took over as the program’s all-time digs leader in her final season with 1,457 digs in four seasons.

Bechard acknowledges the impact Garlington, Manda and the 2010 senior class had on the team, but quickly turns to his excitement towards his trio of seniors, pair of juniors and a large nucleus of underclassmen that will collaborate this fall.

“All of the seniors were instrumental in some capacity,” Bechard said. “But, we also had a large core of young kids, too. The best thing about freshmen is that they mature a year and become sophomores. Kaiser and Garlington created a lot of offense for us on the outside so there is a void there, but we feel like with our returners and newcomers that we have an opportunity to be solid in those positions. The maturity we have in other positions will make us stronger, too.”

Watch List: Allison Mayfield (Sr.), Lauren Hagan (Sr.), Marianne Beal (So.), Catherine Carmichael (So.), Amy Wehrs (So.), Chelsea Albers (Fr.), Sara McClinton (Fr.), Taylor Manning (RS So.)

FIRST IMPRESSION: “A couple people have to emerge from that group and be solid there for us to have the type of season we want to have,” Bechard said.

Three-year starter Allison Mayfield will lead an offensive attack that posted 13 kps as a team last season. Second only to Garlington in 2010, Mayfield’s 330 kills and 2.87 kps last season lead the returning core. Senior Lauren Hagan and sophomore Amy Wehrs will look to add to their contributions after seeing time in a combined 55 sets a year ago.

“On the outside, that’s where Mayfield has been a three-year starter for us,” Bechard said. “But there’s going to be a couple of other spots that the Marianne Beal’s, the Catherine Carmichael’s and the Amy Wehr’s bring back some experience in that position, but Chelsea (Albers) and Sara (McClinton) as freshmen will also get an opportunity”.

A four year letterwinner at Papillion LaVista High School, Chelsea Albers was crowned the Omaha World Herald’s Girls’ 2010-11 Athlete of the Year for the state of Nebraska. After leading her team to its second-straight district championship her senior year, Albers was named to the Under Armour Girls High School All-America Second Team.

The two-time Super-State honoree also helped power PLVHS to state championships in 2007 and 2008. The following year, Albers led the state of Nebraska with 487 kills in 2009 and was second in blocks.

“How quickly we can integrate the two freshmen into the mix will be key,” Bechard said. “We’re not going to be dependent on freshmen to get us there, but we obviously think they can add to what we’re trying to do.”

Also a Nebraska native, Sara McClinton led Millard North High School to district championships in 2008 and 2010. After leading her team, McClinton was named all-Nebraska Super-State First Team her senior season. Continuously improving, she started her high school career as an all-state honorable mention member in 2008 and 2009.

“The level they played at in high school and club volleyball certainly creates an environment that will allow for as smooth of a transition as we can hope for,” Bechard said. “They’ve given themselves the best chance to hit the ground running.”

Watch List: Caroline Jarmoc (So.), Tayler Tolefree (Jr.), Jessie Allen (So.)

FIRST IMPRESSION: “I’m very excited about the experience we bring back in the middle with (Tayler) Tolefree and (Caroline) Jarmoc,” Bechard said. “The experiences and practice Jessie (Allen) got on our trip to Italy really helped her, so I think that will be a real strength for us.”

Sophomore Caroline Jarmoc and junior Tayler Tolefree will provide the blocking backbone for the 2011 edition of the Jayhawks after they paired up to lead the team in blocks last season. Tolefree’s 0.87 blocks per set (bps) was second only to Jarmoc’s 0.99 bps a year ago. They collected 212.0 of the team’s 256.5 blocks total blocks as a duo in 2010.

“Jarmoc, Tolefree and Allen are all physical players, so we think the initial line of defense has the opportunity to have a little more of an impact,” Bechard said. “If the ball clears that, then we do have some experience behind them. That combination will create a little better defensive point-scoring mindset for us. There are other players that can enter into that mix.”

Those other players Bechard predicts will score with the block include Albers, McClinton, Carmichael and Mayfield as well as sophomore setter Kara Wehrs.

Mayfield racked up 57 total blocks last year, including 13 of the solo variety. The setters got involved at the net, too. Senior Nicole Tate and Wehrs joined forces for 61 combined blocks as more than two-thirds of the Jayhawks’ blocking production returns for the 2011 season.

Watch List: Brianne Riley (So.), Jaime Mathieu (So.), Morgan Boub (Jr.)

FIRST IMPRESSION: “Our middle blockers will help us be pretty physical at the net, but our defense is also pretty quick in the group behind them,” Bechard said. “That combination should allow for us to be better defensively.”

While the Jayhawks narrowly edged their opponents in kills a year ago with 1,511 kills to 1,508, the Crimson and Blue separated themselves even farther on the defensive side. The Kansas defenders averaged nearly 15 digs per set a year ago to their opponents’ 14.25 dps.

All three members of the returning defensive unit reached 200 digs in 2010. Sophomore Jaime Mathieu (200) and junior Morgan Boub (292) each proved their value, while sophomore Brianne Riley shined in her rookie season.

As the nearly full-time libero, Riley finished the season in the top 10 in digs in the Big 12 with 4.11 dps, which was good for fourth all-time in KU history. Additionally, her 403 digs for the season put her eighth all-time in program history in a single season.

Watch List: Nicole Tate (Sr.), Kara Wehrs (So.), Erin McNorton (So.)

FIRST IMPRESSION: “I like our setter crew,” Bechard said. “We can go with a one-setter system if we need to or we can switch into a two-setter system, which really helps with our versatility.”

After starting her career as a Big 12 All-Freshman Team member, senior Nicole Tate will begin her final campaign with the Jayhawks as fifth all-time on the program’s career assist leaderboard (3,044). Tate’s 10.16 assists per set (aps) ranked fifth in the Big 12 to finish the 2010 season.

During the 2010 season, Tate shared time with sophomore Kara Wehrs, who found her groove as a true freshman. Wehrs stared 12 matches and saw time in 47 sets, averaging nearly a kill per set (0.96) and 7.94 aps. Fellow sophomore Erin McNorton made the most of the five sets she checked into, tallying nearly two assists per set with a pair of digs.

The team will hold an intersquad scrimmage at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Aug. 20. The match is slated for 3 p.m., and will be followed by an alumni reception. All fans are encouraged to attend free of charge.

Kansas will open the 2011 campaign in Athens, Ga., against Florida A&M in the opening match of the University of Georgia Bulldog Invitational. First serve is set for Aug. 26 at 3:30 p.m. CT.

Head coach Ray Bechard and members of the team will participate in KU’s Olympic Sports media day on Aug. 17. Media day begins at 12 p.m. and will be held in the Allen Fieldhouse media room located in the northwest corner of Allen Fieldhouse (across from the men’s basketball lockerroom). Each coach will make opening comments before opening the floor for questions. Following the coaches, select student-athletes from each team will be available to talk with the media.