Head Coach Relishes Dream Job

Nov. 12, 2010


Growing up in a small town in western Kansas, Ray Bechard found himself an avid Kansas Jayhawk fan. It was his dream to be involved with the University of Kansas in any way possible. Bechard is currently in the middle of his 13th season as the head volleyball coach for the Kansas Jayhawks. His teams have been down rough stretches and have seen the glory days. He led his team to three-straight NCAA Tournaments in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

For Bechard, volleyball wasn’t really in the picture growing up because basketball was his first love. Little did he know that coaching basketball would eventually lead him to the sport he loves coaching now, volleyball.

“I took my first job at a small town in southwest Kansas at Lewis High School. Originally, the job description was elementary P.E., driver’s education, head basketball coach and maybe assistant football coach. Then midway through the summer, the superintendent called and said they were in a bind with volleyball,” Bechard said. “‘I absolutely can’t help with you with that,’ I said. He called back a week later and said you are now our head volleyball coach.”

Bechard coached volleyball and basketball for three years at Lewis before he received the assistant basketball coaching job at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan. It was at Barton that he was put in a similar situation to when he was at Lewis. Again he was notified that the volleyball program was in a bind and needed a head coach. For the next 13 years, Bechard was the Cougars’ head volleyball coach.

“When the choice came halfway through my career there (at Barton) on whether to do basketball or volleyball, volleyball really became the sport I grew to love,” Bechard said.

Bechard is in his 13th year at KU and he has his team fighting for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Earlier in the season Bechard’s team reached two impressive milestones. On September 18, his team picked up a win over Texas A&M giving Bechard his 200th career win at Kansas.

“I guess that means I’m old or I’ve been here a long time. What I’ll remember most is a hard-fought five-set match against a really good team. It didn’t really hit me when it was over, ‘oh wow you just won your 200th.’ It hit me that we fought really hard and beat a really good team,” Bechard said. “We were down two sets-to-one and came back to win sets four and five, so I’ll probably remember that more than just the (victory) number itself.”

Then on October 9, the Jayhawks welcomed the No.10 Iowa State Cyclones to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center. It would be a night to remember for Bechard and his team, the program and the fans because they saw the Jayhawks upset Iowa State in four sets. The win was the first in program history over a top-10 team.

“It was high-level volleyball for an hour and 45 minutes. I thought clearly we were the better team that night and we won a couple sets decisively. It was really good to see us control the match from start to finish,” Bechard said.

Aside from coaching the Kansas Jayhawk volleyball team, Bechard also serves as the president of the American Volleyball Coaches Association. He has been a member since 1992. There are over 5,000 members in the AVCA, which is made up of college coaches, high school and club coaches. Bechard oversees board meetings twice a year as the president.

“Our goal is to promote volleyball and to provide educational opportunities for coaches and to award players for great effort. It’s been some work, but you meet a lot of great people and it’s a way of giving back to a sport that has been really good to me and my family,” Bechard said.

Bechard has two children that were a part of Kansas Athletics as well. He was able to coach his daughter, Ashley, on the volleyball team from 2001-04. She was part of two of the three NCAA Tournament teams, which was the most successful stint in Kansas history.

“Here’s somebody that I got to see not only daily, but on trips and it was nice to have a part of my family with me. Coaching can be a lonely profession because you are on the road a lot. So that was something that was extremely valuable to me even though it probably cost me more because every road trip I gave her money and I told her it was probably an NCAA violation, but she thought she needed spending money,” Bechard said.

His son, Brennan, was on the men’s basketball team from 2007-09. He was part of the 2008 National Championship team in his junior year.

“To have a son who had the opportunity to play for Coach Self and be part of a National Championship and a couple other tournament teams is really special. I don’t know that we could hope or wish for any more from our two kids and they both got a quality education on top of it,” Bechard said.

His team has some work left to do this season if it wants to return to the NCAA Tournament. Five years have passed since the last time a Kansas volleyball team represented the school in the tournament.

“It’s been too long since we’ve been to the tournament and this class of seniors hasn’t been there before. It would mean a great deal to them and to our program because we’ve worked extremely hard towards that goal,” Bechard said. “We were close last year and we wanted this to be a breakthrough year. We’ve made it a little tougher than what it could have been. It’s important to the athletic department in general as well because we’ve gone through some interesting times over the past six months to a year. So to have a fall sport have success is really important.”

The 2010 season has had its share of ups and downs, but it is another season for Bechard to cherish as he continues the most successful coaching career in Kansas volleyball history.

“I always thought that if I got the opportunity to coach here, it would be the biggest thrill of my coaching career and obviously that’s exactly what it’s been,” Bechard said.