Jayhawks Ready for Red Raiders on Saturday
Oct. 20, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with a No. 39 spot in the NCAA RPI projections and a third of the season left to play, head coach Ray Bechard and the University of Kansas volleyball team will welcome Texas Tech to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
Kansas and Texas Tech meet each other for the first time this season after both have suffered a tough stretch to open Big 12 Conference play. When the conference season started at the end of September, the Red Raiders sat atop the league standings with a 14-1 record. Kansas, after taking down No. 6 Minnesota and racking up three tournament victories, opened conference action in second place.
Since then, both have fallen on hard times as they work through a conference with six of the nine volleyball teams either ranked or receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. When the RPI projections were released by the NCAA on Monday, eight of the nine Big 12 teams landed in the top 45. Texas Tech debuted at No. 93.
What results is a matchup of the utmost importance on the Jayhawks’ home floor Saturday night. With an RPI in the top 40, Kansas has plenty of opportunity to continue work on its postseason resume. In its nine remaining matches, four come against top-25 RPI opponents. Four more match the Jayhawks against top-40 foes.
“This ends the first half of the conference season,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “We’ll play it against a team that had a great pre-conference season and has been extremely competitive in the conference. They haven’t gotten the results they wanted, but you can tell obviously their staff is doing a great job. We need to concentrate on ending the first half of the conference much better than we started it so we can gain some momentum going into the second round.”
Saturday marks the 32nd meeting between the two teams, with Texas Tech holding the slight 16-15 all-time series lead. Kansas swept the Red Raiders in the duo’s most recent meeting last October. The Jayhawks have won seven of the last eight meetings.
FOLLOW THE HAWKS
Live video and audio streaming is available on Jayhawk All-Access free of charge for fans unable to make it to HFAC. Kyle West will have the call. Fans can always track the Jayhawks on GameTracker or by following JayhawkVball on Twitter.
Fans who present their ticket stub from the Kansas vs. Kansas State football game on Saturday morning will receive $3 admission to the volleyball match.
KANSAS (12-8, 0-7 Big 12)
Early in the fourth set against Kansas State on Wednesday, senior setter Nicole Tate dove into the scorer’s table to keep a ball in play as one of her teammates hustled to send it back over the net. The play resulted in a Kansas State kill; a near perfect example of what the Jayhawks have endured since the start of conference play; great plays and impressive stats overshadowed by hard luck losses.
Each match of league play has showcased the Jayhawks’ strengths and weaknesses in what has been a trying and unfamiliar start to the Big 12 schedule. The loss to Kansas State on Wednesday ties the only other 0-7 start in Big 12 history for KU (1998).
Despite the losses, Kansas continues to compete and put up big numbers in an intense schedule. Of the team’s eight losses, only one has come against a team not receiving votes or ranked in the AVCA Top 25 poll. Nevertheless, Kansas has hung with, or put up better numbers, than the opposition in nearly every match.
Against Texas A&M, Kansas posted a better attack percentage and more digs, aces and blocks. Against Missouri, KU again rang up a higher attack percentage and more blocks than the Tigers. Kansas had the nationally-ranked Sooners on the ropes, too, posting more kills (68/58), more digs (74/64) and more assists (65/53) than Oklahoma.
When pitted against their in-state rival on Wednesday, the Jayhawks out-blocked the Wildcats (13.0/9.5), and recorded just three fewer in the kills, assists and digs categories. Yet, the Wildcats escaped with the victory, even with the Jayhawks jumping out and taking control with a first-set win.
Bechard and his team aren’t worried about the stats. His team wants a victory and will have its chance in front of a home crowd Saturday night.
“At this point for us, we are looking for a new opportunity and a different result from where we’ve been,” Bechard said. “Texas Tech is the next opportunity for us to build some momentum into the second half.”
With 13.0 total blocks by the Jayhawks on Wednesday, Texas Tech is the only team in the league that averages more blocks per set than Kansas. Heading into the weekend, KU ranks in the top five in the Big 12 in blocks (2.68, 2nd), opponent hitting percentage (.171, 4th) and digs (14.88, 5th).
Senior outside hitter Allison Mayfieldpassed former Jayhawks Cyndee Kanabel and Jana Correa to become No. 8 on KU’s all-time career kills list with a 17-kill effort against Kansas State. Her 4.21 kills per set ranks second in the league, with Texas Tech’s Amanda Dowdy hot on her trail in third (4.18).
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc ranks third in the Big 12 in conference-only matches with 0.35 aces per set. Junior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree moved up to third in the conference in blocks per set (1.27) after a six-block effort on Wednesday. Tolefree is just eight block assists from cracking the KU single-season all-time top 10.
TEXAS TECH (14-8, 0-7 Big 12)
The Red Raiders opened their season with a four-set loss at TCU before churning out 13-straight victories. Like the Jayhawks, they too kicked off conference play against one of the Big 12’s top-25 teams, as they fell to then-No. 16 Iowa State. Also similar to Kansas, Texas Tech forced nationally-ranked Oklahoma and Texas A&M to five sets, but ultimately suffered the loss.
“They had some good results prior to conference,” Bechard said. “They are a much improved team than what they have been in past years. They started making strides last year. They’ve got a premier player in (Amanda) Dowdy, and they’ve got a lot of pieces around her. They have been extremely competitive even in matches that didn’t go their way.”
Dowdy, a senior outside hitter, leads the team with 4.18 kills per set and unleashed a 22-kill performance at home against Texas A&M on Wednesday, moving her into second all-time in kills in Red Raider history. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Dravon Rangel leads the Big 12 with 1.59 blocks per set and put forth an eight-block evening against the Aggies. She is the front line for a balanced defensive attack as four Red Raiders collected double-digit digs in their last time out. Junior libero Tory Vaughan leads the crew with 3.63 digs per set, but gets a lot of help from Dowdy who racks up 3.47 dps.
Kansas hits the road again next week with a trip to Ames, Iowa on Wednesday to face No. 15 Iowa State. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. Next weekend, the Jayhawks will play their only Sunday match of the conference season against Texas A&M. The Oct. 30 start time is slated for 2 p.m.