2012 Season Outlook: Defensive Specialists/Liberos
Aug. 22, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In the third of a four-part series, the Kansas volleyball season outlook breaks down the back row with an overview of the defensive specialists and liberos.
Returned: Sr. Morgan Boub, Jr. Brianne Riley, Jr. Jaime Mathieu
Gained: Jr. Amy Wehrs
Similar to the line of defense at the net in the middle blockers, the Jayhawks’ back row brings back a wealth of experience in juniors Jaime Mathieu, Brianne Riley and senior Morgan Boub. This season the NCAA has upped the allowable number of substitutions from 12 to 15. Though the rule will prove beneficial to every position, none more so than the defensive specialists.
Twice last season, five Kansas defenders recorded double-digit digs in a match – a feat KU had not achieved since the 2009 season. Furthermore, the Jayhawks dug 96 balls at Baylor last October, the most by a Big 12 team in a four-set meeting. In all, five Jayhawks finished the season with 150-plus digs. Four of them are back in 2012, including returning leaders Riley and Boub.
Riley started all 29 matches at the libero position in 2011 and checked in at fourth in the Big 12 in digs per set (4.34). Her 482 digs were the third-most in a season in Kansas volleyball history, making her the clear candidate for the starting libero spot for the third-straight year.
A two-year starter, Boub provides consistency in the back row. Bechard describes her as one of the most athletic defensive players on the squad and contends for the best range defensively. The Overland Park, Kan., native has one of the most effective serves on the team as she and Riley tied for third on the team in 2011 with 17 aces apiece.
Also known for her quality serves, Mathieu saw time in all but five matches a year ago. What the five-foot junior lacks in size, she makes up for with speed. Although not a newcomer to the Jayhawks, junior Amy Wehrs is new to the defensive crew. With her quick feet and defensive prowess, Bechard made the call to play Wehrs primarily at defensive specialist and keep her available at outside hitter when needed.
Head coach Ray Bechard
On the new sub rule:
“The old sub rule was 12 and we went to 15. It’ll be like hockey, they’ll be in shifts. There will be a front row shift where teams will be big and physical, and a back row shift where you are trying to get people who can keep the ball off the floor and keep plays alive. It is a change, and it’s getting further away from international rules, which concerns some people, but it’s going to give more kids opportunity. That means all four of those defensive specialists have to be ready to go, and they’ve all been through it, so that should be a strength of our team, too.”
On his plan for the defense:
“Bri (Riley) has been a libero for the last couple years but we hope there is competition in that position. We are going to give Amy Wehrs probably a bit more of a look in that situation, too. With the new 15 subs, we can use more of those folks so Jaime (Mathieu) and Morgan (Boub) and Bri and Amy (Wehrs), all four, we think have a chance to create some good defensive opportunities for us.”
Kansas opens the season on Friday against Northwestern State at 4:30 p.m. in its first match of the Arkansas Tournament in Fayetteville, Ark. The Jayhawks will also take on Tennessee-Martin and tournament-host Arkansas in their debut weekend.