Kansas Athletics Hosts Fall Sports Media Day
Aug. 16, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Several members of the local media were on hand to discuss the upcoming fall seasons with head soccer coach Mark Francis, head volleyball coach Ray Bechard and assistant cross country coach Michael Whittlesey Thursday afternoon in the Allen Fieldhouse Media Room.
Each addressed the media before opening the room up for questions. The opening statements are below.
Head soccer coach Mark Francis
“We started preseason Aug. 1, but I’m not sure you ever go into the first competition thinking that you’re ready. You always feel like you could use another week or two. I think the kids are ready to play; they’re tired of kicking each other. They want to go out and kick somebody else. I think as a staff we’re probably ready, you just would rather have a little more time to get things exactly the way you want them. It seems like the preseason has just flown by and now the season starts and it’s a little crazy.
We’re really excited this year. Last year, we had two goals that the team set. One, was to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and one was to win the Big 12. We accomplished half of that. Obviously we didn’t advance in the (NCAA) Tournament, but we made it back to the (NCAA) Tournament, which is one of our big goals. However, we did not win the Big 12. We only achieved half of what we set out to do. This year when we first met with the team we talked about what helped us accomplish our goals last year and what held us back from accomplishing our goals. I think our goals this year are very similar. They expect to get back to the Tournament and advance and we would like to win the Big 12. The Big 12, as you know, in every sport has a bit of a different look this year. I think our conference is pretty wide open in soccer, so I think we have got as good of a chance as anybody. We have a couple new teams in the conference, we have lost a couple. There have been a lot of coaching changes, so the Big 12 is definitely going to have a new look in soccer. I think Kansas has as good of a chance as anyone else.
We have a lot of players back from last year; we have six newcomers, one transfer and five freshmen. Several of those new players are going to be starting tomorrow. A lot of familiar faces, but also some new faces in the lineup tomorrow and the rest of this year.”
Head volleyball coach Ray Bechard
“I want to wish both coaches luck this fall, I think it’s also very exciting to see what our track program has done for all of us around here the past few months with the success they’ve had this spring and summer – especially with Diamond (Dixon) bringing home a gold medal. That’s a really cool thing for our other athletes to see.
This fall has a little different feel to it. I’m really excited to see our football team in action, really excited to see Mark’s (Francis, soccer) team in action, too. I know it’s been 18 months since Dr. (Sheahon) Zenger put a lot of things in place and a lot of those challenges he put on our athletes and our coaches are really taking hold. I’m very excited to see that transition.
We’ve been at it for eight days and we’ll have a chance on Saturday to get organized with the Crimson and Blue match Saturday, and then we open the season in Arkansas next Friday. All across the country, volleyball coaches are getting a little anxious and by Wednesday they’ll all be in panic stage, because we all feel like we need another week as Mark (Francis) alluded to.
They’ve done everything we’ve thrown at them, and we’ve thrown a lot at them over these last eight days. We’re excited about where we’re at, but we know we’ve got a long way to go. We are motivated by our finish last fall and coming up a little bit short. We know, as a program, we were probably only one good win away from an NCAA Tournament bid. When you can isolate three or four matches where we had the opportunity to do that, you really have to take a close look at everything you’re doing from top to bottom. You look for where you might be able to take an inch or two per play, per set, per match to where you can make that difference. We’ve been diligent about doing that, our staff has been diligent about doing that and we’re convinced we can grab the number of inches we need to in order to make those matches fall our way.
We had 12 freshmen and sophomores on our roster last year, and this year those ladies are sophomores and juniors. You can’t believe the experience factor in those kids becoming upperclassmen that those kids now bring to the gym every day. We really think that is going to make a huge difference.
If you count seven starters on a volleyball team – six starters and a libero – we bring back about five-and-a-half or six. We’re excited about that. We feel like we’ve got good depth, not just numbers, but people who can play. It’s been a competitive fall camp up until this point and it will continue to be that way.
Our conference will be a little different, obviously, with West Virginia and TCU joining us. West Virginia’s program is in a little bit of a rebuilding phase, but I know they’re excited about the challenges of playing in the Big 12. TCU won 25 matches last year in the Mountain West Conference and I feel like they can come in and be competitive right away. Texas is picked No. 1 or No. 2 in most polls and we’ve got two or three teams in the top-10 or top-15 right now. I don’t think it’ll be much different from last year, where the Big 12 was the No. 1 RPI conference in the country.
With that being said, we know what’s in front of us, we’re ready for what’s in front of us and we’ve got a very motivated group that’s excited to get started a week from tomorrow. We host two home tournaments this year, plus three non-conference matches. We have 17 home dates, which we’re definitely happy about and we’ve got a number of NCAA Tournament-quality teams coming in during pre-conference that will get us ready for what lies ahead in conference play.
We’re going to treat each match like it’s important, because you can have a good win or a bad loss – both are equally important when it comes to NCAA Tournament selection. Each match will have value and we’ll have a number of opportunities to get quality wins against top-25, top-15 ranked teams.”
Assistant Cross Country Coach Michael Whittlesey
“I’ll talk about the ladies first. This year we lost our top two from last year, which were both significant losses. We’re looking for great leadership from our senior class. We have four girls that should be making a big impact on our front pack. There’s a lot of other sophomores that have done the job this last year to get us ready. We brought in a big nucleus of six freshmen and I feel any one of them could have an impact this year. We have a couple other girls that we redshirted last year that have also done the job. Our goal this year is we need to have a really strong front five. I know it’s cliché for our sport that you need to have a good front five, but we have no clear cut number one. Tessa Turcotte is our top returner. She’s been in our top three for two years now so she’s got the most experience up there. Natalie Becker is also one of our top returners. We don’t have a standout runner like we’ve had the past few years with Rebeka Stowe and Lauren Bonds, who came in preseason contending for a top position in the conference. Anyone of those four or five that I mentioned could have that breakthrough this year because they have the experience of running in the big meets and knowing what the season is going to look like. We’re really looking forward to a strong five running a lot closer together than last year and probably the past few years. The conference for both men and women is outstanding. The Big 12 Conference is one of the top two, if not the best, conference out there, both for track and field and for cross country. So it’s always going to be tough from that standpoint but our goal is to put ourselves up high in the conference and try to get an NCAA bid for both the men and the women. We have to do that with a very close top five. You can’t do that with one runner or two runners having a great meet. We need five runners. We need to have that depth all the way through even the top seven.
On the men’s side we also lost our top two runners from last year but we’ve got a big kick with Donny Wasinger coming back. His loss last year was tremendous in terms of our team’s success last year. We could’ve been a lot better having Donny out there but in a lot of ways it helped the team become a lot better because his leadership out there leading the pack wasn’t there. The younger athletes had to step forward and they had to learn on their own. Our returners this year have really stepped up. The commitment that our sophomores and freshmen from last year have put forth in the last 12 months has been tremendous. They’ve really stepped up the game. I was talking to Donny yesterday about where we were going and what we could do and talked about his leadership and what we need from him. Both he and I talked about how the last three years he was the one pushing everyone else. He had to really push himself and the number one role was his each of his three full seasons. It was really him pushing himself and no one else was really pushing him. Well we’ve got four or five guys this year that believe they can push Donny and can run with Donny. His role of being the number one runner isn’t guaranteed. We expect him to be there but the great news is we’ve got four or five or six other guys that fell like they can be there and that is what will give us a great year this year with the men’s program. I think this is the strongest team we’ve had in a number of years at KU and that’s not just a talent basis, but a commitment basis. Anyone from our 10th runner on up feels like they count and they’ve put in the hard work. They’re not sitting there thinking, `I’m the 10th runner and it’s the top seven guys’ job to get it done.’ They’re pushing the envelope to try and get into the top five and it’s going to make our team that much stronger. We have a couple of freshmen that might have an impact this year but it’ll be tough to break through. We have several guys that we redshirted last year that I do expect to be in our front five. Gabe Gonzalez is one of the big guys that we redshirted last year. Looking at last year’s roster, we didn’t have Gabe and we didn’t have Donny, and both of those guys could be in our front three this year.”