Kansas Ready to Road Trip to Nationally Ranked Oklahoma
Oct. 13, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –Three weeks into the Big 12 Conference season has allowed plenty of time to establish parity up and down the league, while mixing in several surprises as the University of Kansas volleyball team will continue its Big 12 schedule in Norman, Okla., against No. 22 Oklahoma, Saturday at 5 p.m.
Kansas (12-6, 0-5) will face its third ranked opponent in league play on Saturday still in search of the elusive first Big 12 win. KU will meet an Oklahoma (17-5, 4-2) squad that once held the Big 12’s top spot with a 4-0 record and a win against then-No. 8 Texas, before dropping consecutive matches on the road at No. 16 Iowa State and then a five-setter at Texas A&M, Wednesday night.
The Jayhawks enter the weekend finding themselves in an even more abnormal situation. KU’s 0-5 start is the only one the Jayhawks have endured since the 1997 season when they opened Big 12 action with an 0-7 mark. Staying within the unpredictable trend of conference play, Kansas has posted a better attack percentage and more blocks than its Big 12 opponent in its last two times out – yet still is searching for the right combination to bring it all together for a win.
“Oklahoma beats a team like Texas and now have gone through a couple tough losses, but that’s the way of our league,” head coach Ray Bechardsaid. “Right now, we’ve been on that tough-loss side a few more times than most, but there’s such great parity and balance in the league. The Wednesday-Saturday setup really creates the opportunity to prepare, to get rested and get organized. That’s why you’re seeing so many closely contested four and five-set matches.”
Although Oklahoma leads the all-time series against the Jayhawks, 42-30, Kansas swept the Sooners on their home court in the Jayhawks last match of the 2010 season, only to watch Oklahoma advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 round.
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KANSAS (12-6, 0-5 Big 12)
In a match that featured 37 tied scores or lead changes at Missouri on Wednesday, Kansas fought its way back from an 0-2 deficit against its rival. The Jayhawks won the third set and shot out to a commanding 8-2 lead to start the fourth and kept the pace with a 19-13 edge late in the set. An 8-1 Missouri run pushed the Tigers to their first lead of the set, before both teams traded points to the 26-26 mark. Two late kills ended the match and Kansas’ comeback threat with a 3-1 loss. Senior outside hitter Allison Mayfield led a balanced attack that included three Jayhawks with double-digit kills as redshirt sophomore middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc (15) and freshman outside hitter Sara McClinton(10) each posted solid nights. For the second-straight Big 12 Conference match, Kansas posted a better attack percentage (.212/.191) and more blocks (13.0/10.0) than its opponent, who went on to claim the victory.
On the defensive end, junior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree and Jarmoc combined for 12 blocks as Tolefree led both teams with seven, putting the duo at third and fourth-best in the Big 12. Sophomore libero Brianne Rileyput forth her seventh 20-dig performance of the season, leading both teams with 24 digs. Riley now ranks second in conference-only matches with 5.32 digs per set.
With the 13.0 total team block effort, Kansas moved back to third in the league in blocks per set (2.64). Eight service aces, including two from Jarmoc, pushed Jarmoc to the top of the league in conference-only matches with 0.36 aces per set.
“There were good performances against Missouri,” Bechard said. “But then we all have to take responsibility for game four ending like it did. Everyone had some responsibility in that. We have to spread responsibility in both of those ways. We have to keep that balance, but when it comes down to finishing games, everybody has a responsibility to make the play to help the team.”
Balance has been key all season for Kansas. Heading into Saturday’s contest, two different Jayhawks post more than three kills per set, three average more than 2.20 digs per set and both starting middle blockers, Jarmoc and Tolefree, rack up at least 1.20 blocks per set. The tools are in place.
“We’re going to prepare each and every day in every way we can to get closer to better results,” Bechard said. “There’s a majority of our conference season left. We didn’t script a start like this, but we can script where we want to go from here. It’s not about the Jayhawks not competing, we’ve just got to make some very good volleyball plays at the end of games. That’s what teams are doing to us and that’s how we need to respond.”
OKLAHOMA (17-5, 4-2 Big 12)
Oklahoma posted a 13-3 non-conference mark that included a sweep over then-No. 15 Colorado State, and stayed hot to open Big 12 play with a 4-0 mark. A 3-2 victory against then-No. 8 Texas helped power the Sooners to the top of the Big 12 standings after the first two weeks of conference play.
The Sooners, who have yet to play a three-set match in conference, then fell in back-to-back road matches against No. 16 Iowa State and Texas A&M to fall to fourth in the league standings.
“I know Santi (Oklahoma coach Santiago Restrepo) has a lot of different pieces that he’s working in and out,” Bechard said. “They’ve had great wins this year, and they’re going to work extremely hard, be very competitive and represent our league well.”
Oklahoma is led by senior Suzy Boulavsky’s 3.54 kills per set and the Big 12 blocking leader, sophomore Sallie McLaurin’s 1.54 blocks per set. Directing the action is four-year starting setter, senior Brianne Barker.
“They’ve got Barker who is a great volleyball player, she happens to be a setter, but is a great volleyball player,” Bechard said. “She’s been in charge of that team for the last four years, so anytime you have a player like that out there, it gives your team a chance.”
Kansas returns to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center next week to host in-state rival Kansas State, Wed., Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. Next Saturday, the Jayhawks will welcome the Texas Tech Red Raiders to Lawrence, with a recently-announced 6:30 p.m. start time.