2005 Outlook -- Jayhawks Poised For Return to NCAA Tournament
Aug. 22, 2005
Kansas head coach Ray Bechard and the Jayhawks opened two-a-day practices Aug. 8 at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center with nine returning letterwinners and four newcomers present and accounted for. Among the returning nine are five starters and four veterans vying for a spot at outside hitter and libero.
The Jayhawks are coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and two of the best seasons in program history. Bechard, entering his eighth season with the Jayhawks, is ready to guide the 2005 squad back to the postseason for the third straight season.
KU Needs To Pick Up Where It Left Off
The Kansas volleyball team was hot as ever last December when it rolled over Santa Clara, 3-1, in the NCAA First Round and took seventh-seeded Washington to five games in second-round action. Despite being down two games to none, the Jayhawks threatened the Huskies on their home court in a 32-34, 26-30, 30-25, 30-26, 12-15, thrilling loss in Seattle to end the season.
“The way we ended our season last year, there was a sense after the match of `wow, we were right there,’ and then Washington went on to the Final Four,” Bechard said. “It’s all about playing your very best at the end but I’d like to be more consistent this year. This group of upperclassmen knows what is expected of them and has been through the battles.”
In 2005, the Jayhawks would like to achieve what no other KU volleyball team has ever done — advance to the NCAA Sweet 16. After two straight NCAA second round finishes, the KU upperclassmen are ready to end their college careers with another program-best finish.
After finishing 19-12 overall and 9-11 in league play last season, the Jayhawks know that a successful non-conference record and strong league play will be vital in preparing for the postseason.
In its journey back to the NCAA Tournament, KU will also contend for a strong Big 12 Conference finish — which will include battles with national powerhouse Nebraska, in-state rival Kansas State, Border Showdown rival Missouri, Colorado, Texas A&M and Texas.
Front and Center — Middle Blockers
Three-year starter and All-Big 12 First Team selection Josi Lima will lead KU’s corps of middle blockers. The 6-0 senior from Sao Paulo, Brazil, has led the Jayhawks since her freshman campaign and is expected to shatter many of the school records in her final season at KU.
“If Josi stays healthy, she is going to be one of the more prolific players we’ve ever had at Kansas,” Bechard said. “Her health is the most important thing and I really feel that she is capable of having another All-Big 12-type season.”
“There are few players that can impact a match from all six rotations like Josi can, especially at middle blocker. She is one of the most complete players in the Big 12 — when you look at things like digs, service aces, attacking out of the back row and, of course, what she’s done in the front row.”
Three young Jayhawks will compete for a starting spot at middle blocker vacated by departed senior Ashley Michaels.
At 6-2, redshirt freshman Kristin Buehler (Parkville, Mo.) has a year of training under her belt and could move into a starting position in the fall.
“Kristin is a good side-out hitter and wide attacker off one foot and really has a physical presence,” Bechard said. “The redshirt was great for Kristin because it gave her the opportunity to watch two really good middles in Michaels and Lima and compete this spring and summer.”
Returning letterwinner Caitlin Mahoney will also see more time in the middle. The 6-1 St. Louis, Mo., native saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2004 after rehabbing an ACL injury.
“As she gains confidence in her body’s ability to move and get back to where she was prior to her injury, there will be a point in time where Caitlin will be able to play at this level again,” Bechard added. “She has great quickness and physicality and it will only be a matter of time before she gains that confidence.”
Another contender for the starting spot is 6-3 freshman Savannah Noyes (Indianola, Neb.).
“Savannah is really athletic, has great size and good foot speed,” Bechard said. “We are hoping she can make the transition to the Big 12 level of play very quickly to get an opportunity to impact us this season.”
“Out of the group of Mahoney, Buehler and Noyes, we need to collectively fill that void left by Ashley Michaels,” Bechard added. “From those three, I am confident we can get the top production we need to be successful at middle blocker.”
Setting the Record Straight
Running the Kansas offense in 2005 is three-year starter Andi Rozum. As a senior, the 5-10 Loveland, Colo., native is stronger than ever, bringing a tough jump serve and solid blocking to the lineup as well.
“Rozum can still make gains and improve on her placement and decision making, but she has been a part of arguably our three best seasons in program history and set 80-90 percent of the time,” Bechard said. “She also brings good blocking and physicality, which is extremely important at that position in this conference.”
Backing Rozum is sophomore Emily Brown, who is a starting outside hitter and primary passer. The 6-2 Brown will continue to set when needed and fill in for Rozum throughout the rotations. Redshirting the 2005 season is highly-touted freshman Katie Martincich from Shawnee, Kan. The 5-10 setter had much success at Bishop Miege High School and will train under Rozum to take the reigns in 2006.
“Katie will be outstanding from a lot of standpoints,” Bechard said. “She is an excellent teammate, has good size, foot speed and decision-making skills — all things you look for in a good setter.”
Outside Hitters Show Explosiveness
Returning starter and senior Paula Caten will be KU’s top outside hitter this fall. The 6-3 Canarana, Brazil, native was at her best in the 2004 NCAA Tournament and should continue to lead the Jayhawks on the outside this season.
“Paula was playing at an extremely high level the last month of last season and we think that can carry right over to her senior season,” Bechard said. “It took her a while to get comfortable with the expectations of Big 12 play and she did that. She will be a go-to attacker this year and her blocking has made a big jump in the process.”
Fellow Brazilian Jana Correa, a 6-0 product of Macapa, Brazil, will start opposite Caten. Despite a tough injury that kept her out of 13 matches as a freshman, Correa returned to the starting lineup in 2004 and is back to full health and even more explosive as a junior.
“Jana should be as healthy as she was her freshman year [before the injury] which we think will lead to the dynamic, explosive hitter we saw then,” Bechard said. “She has been working extremely hard during the spring and summer months and we hope she is back playing at her highest level in the fall.”
Emily Brown, a native of nearby Baldwin City, Kan., is coming off a solid freshman campaign and will return to her starting position on the outside. An extremely versatile player, the 6-2 sophomore will also set when needed and be a primary passer for the Jayhawks this season.
“At times, we asked Emily to do so much her freshman year that it may have been a little unfair,” Bechard said. “I think she is going to be so much more comfortable and we will utilize her more from the attacking standpoint. Her blocking is going to be even better, she is a primary passer and a good server — there will be a jump in all her stats this year.”
Rounding out the hitters is 6-1 junior Megan Hill (Lincoln, Neb.). Hill saw limited action in her first two seasons, but has shown great improvement and may make a big impact in the fall.
“We don’t have as much depth on the left side and Megan needs to fight for a starting position there,” Bechard said. “Megan has really committed to a better fitness level and I think that is really going to pay dividends.”
Defensive Specialists Dig It
The defensive specialists/liberos have some big shoes to fill in 2005. Departed senior Jill Dorsey left KU in 2004 as the school’s all-time career digs leader and led the Big 12 with a scorching 4.62 digs per game.
“Dorsey was just a volleyball player,” Bechard said. “She was always in the right place at the right time and had a sense for where she was supposed to be on the floor. She had a great energy level, was confident, and one of the best defensive players in the league over the past couple of years. Her void will be another important one to fill this season.”
Junior Jamie Mathewson is a leading contender for the libero spot. The 5-8 Kansas City, Mo., native is extremely athletic and focused and has continued to improved with each practice.
“Jamie has made more progress this spring than anyone on our team and really has a great chance to make a big impact this fall,” Bechard said. “She’ll get every opportunity to impact us at the libero position with the progress she’s made.”
Another top defender is junior Dani Wittman, a product of Salina, Kan. Wittman made an impact in 2004 and should continue to see more time on the court this season.
“Dani continues to work hard and at times had a real significant role last fall,” Bechard said. “She will also have another opportunity this fall to extend that role and do a number of good things for us like serve and be a primary passer.”
Incoming freshman Liz Ingram (Iowa City, Iowa) may also jump into a starting role in the Fall.
“Liz is a good athlete and has many of the same attributes that made Dorsey really great,” Bechard said. “She will contend for a starting position and could find herself in an important role very quickly.”
Bonding in Brazil
KU got a taste of international competition and a memorable bonding experience last spring with a Preseason Exhibition Tour of Brazil. The Jayhawks spent eight days in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, playing club teams and an impromptu match with the Brazilian Junior National Team.
“We wanted to accomplish a couple of different things,” Bechard said. “The matches were important, but what was extremely important was the cultural experience. The cultural experience was as valuable as anything we did. It was powerful and made a huge impact on players from the United States.”
The Jayhawks and support staff also got to sightsee, shop, visit an orphanage and meet the family and friends of their native Brazilian teammates. The group was also treated to the native cuisine, a day at the beach and other activities.
“This was a different experience for the girls from KU, and I think they enjoyed it very much,” Lima said. “They got to experience what we experienced when we first got here (to Kansas).”
The 2005 Schedule
Another challenging schedule awaits the Jayhawks in 2005. KU will open its 31st season of competition at home on Aug. 26 and play a total of nine non-conference contests before Big 12 play begins Sept. 14.
Highlighting the Jayhawks’ non-conference schedule in 2005 are matches against Michigan State, BYU and Alabama. KU will host the Crimson Tide and UMKC in the Kansas Volleyball Classic to open the season (Aug. 26-27) before traveling to Provo, Utah, Sept. 1-2, for a tournament with the Cougars, Utah Valley State and Montana State.
The Jayhawks’ schedule boasts 16 home matches in 2005 including 10 Big 12 Conference contests. KU will enjoy a six-match home stand at Horejsi in early September which features Saint Louis (Sept. 6), Virginia Commonwealth (Sept. 9), Temple (Sept. 9), Michigan State (Sept. 10), Texas A&M (Sept. 14) and Oklahoma (Sept. 17).
“Having 16 home matches is great for our fans and to have quality non-conference teams like Alabama, Michigan State, Temple and Saint Louis to come in here is really great competition for our team,” Bechard said. “Going to Utah and playing a strong BYU program is also going to be an excellent test on the road for us.”
In-state rival Kansas State comes to town Oct. 5, while national powerhouse Nebraska visits Horejsi just three days later (Oct. 8).
“Nebraska could be favored to win the national championship and there are a number of other teams that will be very good again this season. The Big 12 teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament last year are all going to be better and the teams that did make it are going to be fighting to repeat.”
The Border Showdown continues on Nov. 23 when Missouri visits Lawrence on Senior Night. Three talented seniors — Lima, Caten and Rozum — will be honored in their final match at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
“There is as much production, as far as statistics, out of these three from any senior class we have had in a long time,” Bechard said. “These three are a big part of what we are doing at Kansas and hopefully they can lead us to a place we haven’t been before.”
KU ends its regular season at Iowa State on Nov. 26 and the 2005 NCAA Volleyball Selection Show is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 27. The Jayhawks will begin postseason play when first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament are held Dec. 1-4.