Kansas to Open Big 12 Conference at No. 8 Texas
Sept. 21, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –For the second time in the league’s history, the University of Kansas volleyball team will open the Big 12 schedule against a nationally-ranked Texas squad when the Jayhawks travel to Austin, Texas to take on the Longhorns, Saturday at 4 p.m.
For the first time in the league’s history, however, Kansas (11-1) enters the matchup in second place in the conference standings opposite a ninth-place Texas (7-3) squad.
“I still consider Texas the favorite,” KU head coach Ray Bechardsaid. “Nobody in the Big 12 has attempted to play the schedule they’ve played and nobody has the quality of wins they have. They beat Penn State and they beat a very good Pepperdine team.”
“Standings prior to conference, I don’t think really matter that much,” Bechard continued. “It’s good that we’ve had a somewhat successful pre-conference season, but our goal is to re-establish that once conference play starts.”
On Monday, Kansas received 60 votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I Coaches poll. The Jayhawks now sit just two spots away from breaking into the top 25. With a win against four-time defending NCAA Champion, Penn State, earlier this season, Texas holds a No. 8 ranking on the AVCA poll.
The last time Kansas opened the Big 12 season against Texas, the two met in Lawrence during the 1999 season. Texas held a No. 8 national ranking in that meeting, as well. Texas marks the highest-ranked opponent KU has faced in a Big 12 debut match since traveling to No.1 Nebraska to kick off the 2006 conference season.
RV KANSAS (11-1, 0-0)
The Jayhawks take an 11-1 record into the Big 12 opener, the best start since the 2002 season when Kansas opened at 12-1. A victory on Saturday would tie the KU’s best start under Bechard (2002). The Jayhawks’ all-time best start occurred in the 1991 season when Kansas went 15-1 to open the campaign.
KU’s tournament victory at the DePaul Invitational last weekend gave the Jayhawks their third title in four pre-conference tournaments. Kansas kicked off the season by winning the Georgia Bulldog Invitational on the road, the Jayhawk Invitational at home and the DePaul Invitational last weekend. Road tested, only three of KU’s 11 wins occurred at Horejsi Family Athletics Center so far this season.
“Obviously we’d like to play more at home, but we have been at three different venues already,” Bechard said. “We haven’t played a team the quality of Texas in a true road game yet, but we’ll have to adjust to that athleticism and that environment. The court’s the same size and the net’s the same height, and we’ll still try to do the things that will make you successful in any environment. It will be a fun one. I’m sure they’ll have it rocking in there.”
Entering the week, Kansas received its first Big 12 weekly award of the year when junior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree earned the league’s Defensive Player of the Week accolade. The Lawrence, Kan., native knocked down a team-best 22 blocks over the weekend, good for 1.83 blocks per set. She and fellow middle blocker Caroline Jarmochelped the Jayhawks block more than three blocks (3.17) per set in the three-match span in Chicago.
Through the first month of the season, the Jayhawks are making their presence known nationally. When the first NCAA stats rankings were released on Tuesday, Kansas checked in at No. 14 in the country in blocks per set as a team (2.84). That ranks third in the Big 12 behind Texas Tech (3.11) and Texas (2.87). Jarmoc ranks 26th in the NCAA in blocks per set (1.32), while Tolefree is tied for 44th (1.25).
Offensively, senior outside hitter Allison Mayfieldranks second in the Big 12 in kills, averaging 4.34 kills per set heading into the weekend – good for 23rd in the NCAA.
“I think there are really three segments to the season,” Bechard concluded. “Hopefully, a pre-conference, a conference and a postseason. You can’t have the third without the first two being in place. We’ve been pretty functional in the first phase, now once again we’ve got to be really functional in phase two, where if we’re successful we will have a lot of quality wins. Obviously, that would bode well for trying to set up the third phase.”
NO. 8 TEXAS (7-3, 0-0)
The Longhorns handed TCU its first loss of the season when they swept the Horned Frogs on the road Tuesday night. Senior All-America middle blocker Rachael Adams led the Horns’ attack with 11 kills on .471 hitting and added three blocks in the win against TCU. Freshman outside hitter Khat Bell joined her in double digits with 10 kills, while sophomore opposite hitter Bailey Webster posted nine kills on .692 hitting.
Adams, selected the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, leads the team and the conference with her 1.59 blocks per set – the only player in the Big 12 with more blocks per set than Jarmoc. Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, Bell comes in with 90 kills and 23 blocks on the year.
Freshman outside hitter Haley Eckerman leads the team with 112 kills, good for 3.11 kills per set. As a team, the Longhorns are hitting for a .221 attack percentage, the lowest in the Big 12. Much of that is attributed to the strength of schedule Texas has faced. The Longhorns defeated four-time defending champ Penn State on Sept. 10. The win followed a 3-2 loss to then-No. 7 Florida and two sweeps by then-No. 11 Minnesota – a team Kansas defeated the next weekend.
FOLLOW THE HAWKS
Saturday’s match will air on the Longhorn Network. The game will also be broadcast via online radio on KUathletics.com. GameTracker and live audio links can be found on the volleyball schedule page on KUathletics.com. Live scoring updates are also available by following JayhawkVball on Twitter.