Kansas to Face Back-to-Back Ranked Teams at Northern Iowa Invitational
Sept. 7, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –With two tournament titles in hand from the opening weeks of the season, the University of Kansas volleyball team will put its undefeated record to the test at the Northern Iowa Invitational, starting with host No. 15 Northern Iowa, Sept. 9-10.
Kansas (6-0) has dropped just one set in the first two weeks of play, en route to winning the Georgia Bulldog Invitational and the Jayhawk Invitational in consecutive weeks. Additionally, the Jayhawks have placed four different players on all-tournament teams, including two-time tournament MVP Allison Mayfield and two-time all-tournament honoree Caroline Jarmoc.
This weekend, however, stands out to head coach Ray Bechard, his coaching staff and his team as a major point of interest. With a tournament field that includes a UNI (7-0) squad that earned a top-eight seed and hosted an NCAA Regional in its fifth-straight postseason appearance last season, a Minnesota (3-1) crew that has been ranked in the AVCA Top 25 for 51-straight weeks and a St. Louis (3-1) team fresh off a tournament win at the Hawkeye Invitational, Bechard knows there’s no better scenario to test his young team’s ability.
“As a staff, we’re excited about getting a sense of where we’re at,” Bechard said. “I know the team is, too. They know we’ve had some success the last two weekends, but they also know we haven’t played top-10, top-15 teams so far. This will give everybody a good indication of what’s going on with us.”
KANSAS (6-0, 0-0 Big 12 Conference)
After a short stay at home, Kansas is ready to roadtrip until the team returns to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center to host No. 17 Iowa State on Sept. 28. In their home tournament, Tthe Jayhawks quickly bounced back after dropping their first set of the season against Belmont in the Jayhawk Invitational opener. KU went on to win the next eight-straight sets to defeat Belmont, 3-1, Appalachian State, 3-0, and South Dakota State, 3-0.
“You still concentrate on the things that have given you a certain level of success to this point,” Bechard said about facing ranked competition this weekend. “We always talk about that first touch, whether we’re serving or passing. That will be critical and elevated because the teams that have the most options after that first pass usually have the higher level of success. You don’t change those things, you just know you have to be a little more aware of the things that we’re trying to concentrate on.”
Bechard has discussed his team’s improved blocking aptitude throughout the season. Proving his point, Kansas is playing big at the net in the opening weeks of the season. As a team, the Jayhawks’ 3.11 blocks per set rank third in the league. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Caroline Jarmocleads the pack. Her 1.58 blocks per set lead the team and rank third in the Big 12. On the flipside, the Jayhawks are the hardest to block in the conference. Their opponents have accumulated just 1.39 blocks per set, the fewest among league schools.
Entering the third week of the season, Kansas has at least one player ranking in the top five among the Big 12 in five different categories. Senior outside hitter Allison Mayfield ranks second in the conference in both kills (4.47 kps) and points scored (4.89 pps). Aside from her third-ranked blocking numbers, Jarmoc ranks fifth in points scored (4.50 pps). Fellow middle blocker, junior Tayler Tolefree, checks in at fourth in the league in hitting percentage (.410), while sophomore libero Brianne Rileybroke into the top-five last weekend at 3.95 digs per set.
No. 15 NORTHERN IOWA (7-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) | Friday, 7 p.m. CT
Last season marked the first meeting between UNI and Kansas since the 1995 season. After falling behind 0-2 at home, the Jayhawks fought their way back to a 2-2 tie to force a decisive fifth set. With the match on the line, the nationally-ranked Panthers found a way to top the Jayhawks in the final set (15-11) to earn the 3-2 victory. Now Kansas will look to even the score a year later.
“We’ll be on their floor this time and we’ve got a few players that were here for that match and some that weren’t,” Bechard said. “It will be interesting how our kids react and how our more veteran kids can help us have some success this weekend.”
The Panthers also enter the weekend with two pre-conference season tournament titles under their belts. UNI opened its season at the Northern Illinois Invite, defeating tournament host, NIU, and Cincinnati, who went on to hand Missouri its first loss the following weekend. At the Asics Invitational last weekend, the Panthers knocked off then-No. 25 Florida State, UC Irvine and Delaware.
Junior middle blocker Krista DeGeest ties the Jayhawks’ Allison Mayfieldfor the most kills of any player at the tournament (85). DeGeest, the MVC Player of the Week in week one, leads her offense with 3.27 kills per set. Her accuracy also leads the Panthers (.367 attack percentage).
Senior setter Bre Payton not only directs the offense, racking up 11.19 assists per set, but also has 54 kills on the year. She was named the MVC Player of the Week after she finished with nine kills, 56 assists and 13 digs in UNI’s come-from-behind 3-2 win over No. 25 Florida State. She also notched her first triple-double of the season in UNI’s 3-2 win over UC Irvine tallying 11 kills, 51 assists and 17 digs.
No. 6 MINNESOTA (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten Conference) | Saturday, 10 a.m. CT
Minnesota opened the season at the elite AVCA Showcase, going 1-1 with a loss to then-No. 3 USC and a victory against No. 16 Oregon. Rolling from one challenging week to the next, the Golden Gophers traveled to Austin, Texas, to face then-No. 4 Texas in the Diet Coke Classic. Showing its strength, Minnesota swept the Longhorns twice in two days. The consecutive sweeps propelled Minnesota from No. 11 to No. 6 in the AVCA Division I Coaches’ Poll.
As a team, Minnesota is averaging 1.7 blocks per set. Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Wittman leads the Gophers with 72 kills (4.50 kps). A six-rotation player, Wittman also paces the squad in digs (2.31 dps). Junior setter Mia Tabberson sets her up, averaging 12.69 assists per set.
ST. LOUIS (3-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10 Conference) | Saturday, 5 p.m. CT
The Billikens started their season at the Hawkeye Challenge hosted by Iowa. While there, St. Louis defeated Marquette and Iowa before falling to Central Michigan. A midweek victory against Arkansas State brings the Billikens to 3-1 on the season.
SLU churns out 10.6 kills per set as a team, the lowest among the tournament field, but backs that with an impressive 2.1 blocks per set.
Senior outside/right side hitter Alyssa Deno leads the offense with 41 kills, good for a 2.56 kills per set mark. Sophomore middle blocker Andrea Beaty has knocked down an average of 1.12 blocks per set so far this season.
An Arkansas transfer, junior Cassie Clarke was named the tournament MVP at the Hawkeye Challenge after posting 90 assists, 30 digs, 10 kills and eight blocks. Beaty and Carly Marcum were selected to the All-Tournament team. Beaty had 22 kills and a team-high 13 blocks in three matches, while Marcum added 23 kills and 11 blocks.
Kansas will wrap up its non-conference tournament schedule at the DePaul Invitational in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 16-17. KU will take on San Diego State, Valparaiso and host DePaul in the final tune-up before Big 12 Conference action begins.