2012 Season Outlook: Outside Hitters

Aug. 20, 2012

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – In the first of a four-part series, the Kansas volleyball season outlook begins with an in-depth look at the outside hitters.

Armed with an All-Big 12 Preseason selection and voted to the highest finish in the league since 2005, Kansas will look for its fourth-straight winning season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.

In his 15th season at Kansas, coaching veteran Ray Bechard and the Jayhawks return to the court after a 15-14 season, marking the 10th time Bechard’s squad finished at .500 or better. Ultimately, the Jayhawks finished the year narrowly missing an NCAA Tournament bid after coming in at No. 47 in the final RPI ranking. In 2012, KU’s mission for a postseason berth only mounts as the team hunts for its first trip to the tournament since 2005.

With five starters and the libero back to reprise their roles, Bechard and his staff have options to replace KU’s single-season kills leader in Allison Mayfield. In all, 12 of the 17 players on the KU roster are upperclassmen. Although the program only has two seniors on the roster, not including graduate student-transfer Sylvia Bullock, Bechard knows leadership avenues exist all throughout his team.

“It’s a shared responsibility,” Bechard said. “Plus, we have such a large junior class. (Caroline) Jarmoc and (Catherine) Carmichael have been in the program as long as our two seniors. They are fourth-year players with each having a redshirt year. Then you have a fifth-year Sylvia Bullock, who is new to the game but not new to competing and leading. We have a lot of upperclassmen in juniors and seniors, but for our two seniors (Tayler) Tolefree we want it to be a special year for her, and (Morgan) Boub too, having spent a lot of time in the program. But we need a special year from everyone.”

Returned: So. Chelsea Albers; Jr. Marianne Beal; RS Jr. Catherine Carmichael; So. Sara McClinton; Jr. Amy Wehrs (also a DS)
Gained: TR-Sr. Sylvia Bullock; Fr. Tiana Dockery
Lost: Lauren Hagan, Allison Mayfield

Even without Mayfield, who broke the Kansas single-season record last year with 462 kills during her senior campaign, the Jayhawks still return nearly 70 percent of their offense from a year ago. Bechard is looking forward to the balanced offense that results after the graduation of a former go-to player.

This season, sophomores Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton will have the opportunity to prove that their starting roles as freshmen has the duo ready to shoulder more weight in year two. According to Bechard, McClinton has the ability to compete at a level that matches her Big 12 counterparts and now her focus is consistency. With Albers, Bechard can see her transitioning into a six-rotation player. In 2011, Albers approached the 100 kills (111), digs (171) and blocks (84) mark, the closest of any Jayhawk over the year.

After redshirting her freshman season, Catherine Carmichael enters her junior season with her fourth year of experience. Like most of the team’s versatile outside hitters, Carmichael has the ability to play from both the left and right side. In her only start last season, she took full advantage, racking up a career-high 10 kills at Baylor. Also described as a multi-faceted player by her coach, junior Marianne Beal can step in on both sides as well as play the middle when need be.

A pair of newcomers will add depth to the position in freshman Tiana Dockery and senior-transfer Sylvia Bullock. Dockery is predicted to have the quickest impact among the Jayhawks’ four newcomers this fall, as Bechard speaks highly of her primary passing skill, consistent swings and fundamentally-sound defensive abilities. Bullock comes to Lawrence following a four-year letterwinner for the top-25 women’s basketball program at Miami. Bullock already has the leadership qualities and athleticism in place after her time in Florida, but is currently rebuilding her volleyball savvy that will make her a valuable asset on the left side.

Head coach Ray Bechard
On replacing four-year starter Allison Mayfield:
“We started two freshmen in (Chelsea) Albers and (Sara) McClinton last year, who we didn’t expect to carry a big offensive load. Now those two, among others, will be asked to do a little more. (Catherine) Carmichael is ready to step up. We think we can get more offense out of our middles, as well. Offensively, we will be better served to have a little bit more balance and spread that around. That will put more pressure on what we call our pin players – notably McClinton and Carmichael – and newcomers like Tiana Dockery and Sylvia Bullock. We’re looking for that group to create a balance for us. We’re hoping that balance will in turn make us less predictable. Mayfield will be missed, of course, but when it comes down to end-game now, hopefully we have a better balance of where our scoring will come from, which I think got to us a little last year.”

On the offensive core:
“We’ve got to stay healthy, it’s not a deep group but it’s an interchangeable group. (Tiana) Dockery, (Catherine) Carmichael, (Chelsea) Albers, (Sara) McClinton – they can all go right and left, which is good, but we need two or three people to emerge that are studs and will be consistent studs night-in and night-out. Last year, our hitting efficiency numbers were up and down and at that position, we’ve got to be more consistent.”