Against a Tough Schedule, Young Squad Shows Promise For 2008

Dec. 11, 2007


Complete Season Wrap-up in PDF Format Get Acrobat Reader

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A victory over No. 18 Oklahoma and a road win at <?xml:namespace prefix=”st1″ ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags”?>Missouri highlighted a promising year for Jayhawk volleyball. By season’s end Kansas had played 14 of its 30 matches against teams that advanced to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, including six Big 12 Conference members. KU’s tough slate ranked in the top third for strength of schedule among 324 NCAA Division I volleyball teams.

There were a lot of new faces on the court when the 2007 Kansas volleyball team opened its season. With just two seniors and a pair of juniors on a 16-woman roster, the Jayhawks dove into the 2007 season with a young but talented squad ready to take on the team’s challenging schedule with a competitive fire.

KU opened the year on a promising note, recording back-to-back wins in the Oregon Invitational. The team then dropped its next three contests, two of them on the road against NCAA Tournament teams – at Oregon and at Michigan State – only to rebound with five straight victories, starting with an exciting four-game win over NCAA Tournament bound Missouri State. The victory not only jump-started the team’s longest winning streak of the season, but it also made 10th-year head coach Ray Bechard the winningest volleyball coach in KU history.

Kansas wrapped up its nonconference schedule going undefeated during all four matches of its Jayhawk Classic to claim the tournament crown. Senior Emily Brown was named tournament MVP, while fellow senior Caitlin Mahoney and junior Savannah Noyes earned all-tournament honors.

The Jayhawks took a respectable 7-3 mark into one of the nation’s toughest conference schedules, highlighted by eight matches against top-25 teams.

After dropping its first two league matches, the `Hawks answered back with a pair of wins, including a huge five-game victory over Border Showdown rival Missouri on the Tigers’ home court. That victory snapped a 12-match conference losing streak and marked KU’s first victory in Columbia since 2001.

Growing pains then ensued for the young squad as they lost nine of their next 10 matches.

However, before the season ended, Kansas was able to turn things around, going 3-3 in the team’s final six contests, highlighted by a 3-2 upset over No. 18 Oklahoma. Following a setback to No. 3 Texas, KU picked up its second conference road win at Colorado, and ended the season on a high note, notching a three-game sweep at Texas Tech in the season finale.

Player Notables

Though Kansas’ 13-17 record in 2007 did not reflect the kind of season they were hoping for, the many accomplishments throughout the season were anything but disappointing. The individual strides made by the Jayhawks were definitely a step in the right direction and provided a satisfying glimpse of the program’s bright future.

In her senior campaign, Emily Brown left her name littered all over the KU volleyball record books. Brown tallied her 1,000th career dig and assist in the team’s five-game triumph over Colorado to become the first player in KU volleyball history to reach the 1,000 mark in career kills, digs and assists. Brown had smacked her 1,000th kill earlier in the season against Texas Tech. The Baldwin City, Kan., native finished in the top 10 on five career lists, including fifth in kills (1,168), total attempts (3,048) and games played (430), seventh in digs (1,034) and ninth in assists (1,107). The 6-2 hitter/setter was also selected as the Big 12 Conference player of the week on Sept. 24, the first KU player to do so since Josi Lima on Sept. 19, 2005.

Fellow senior Caitlin Mahoney also made her final appearance in the crimson and blue in 2007, wrapping up her stint at KU with some of the best performances of her career. After seeing limited floor time in her first three years, the 6-1 middle blocker/right side hitter made 16 starts and appeared in 27 matches. Mahoney, a St. Louis, Mo., native, was crucial to the squad, stepping in for the injured Natalie Uhart. In her final season, Mahoney set new personal career bests in kills, block assists, digs and service aces. Mahoney also led the team in attack percentage in its final three matches, hitting at a .480 clip or better.

Juniors Savannah Noyes and Natalie Uhart rounded out the team’s upperclassmen on the 2007 squad. Noyes saw action in all 30 matches with 18 starts and was second on the team with a .235 hitting percentage and fourth with 1.97 kills per game.

Uhart finally made her highly anticipated debut in a Jayhawk uniform after redshirting in 2006 due to a torn ACL. After starting the first four matches of the 2007 season, however, the East Lansing, Kan., native faced another setback when the discovery of a congenital heart defect kept her off the court for a month. Uhart made up for lost time when she finally took to the court again, leading the squad with 1.17 blocks per game and a .271 hitting percentage. Of the 20 matches the middle blocker appeared in, Uhart led the team in total blocks 15 times.

The Jayhawks’ group of underclassmen, consisting of seven sophomores and five freshmen, showed a lot of potential for the future of Kansas volleyball. Sophomores Melissa Grieb and Katie Martincich both saw action in all 30 matches. Grieb, a defensive specialist, served up 26 aces for KU and chipped in 1.69 digs per game. Martincich was second on the squad in assists and digs, averaging 5.15 assists per game and digging up 2.53 balls per contest. The Shawnee, Kan., native is currently seventh in the KU career record books with 1,775 assists and ranks eighth with 8.26 assists per game.

The Jayhawks were forced to play without sophomore Brittany Williams during conference play after the 6-1 middle blocker tore her ACL in practice Sept. 24. Through the first 14 matches, Williams averaged a team second-best 1.05 bpg and added 1.98 kpg on a .256 hitting efficiency.

A talented group of freshmen saw ample court time in their first season with the Jayhawks. Hitter Jenna Kaiser and libero Melissa Manda played in all 30 contests, while Karina Garlington missed just one. Kaiser, a six-foot outside hitter from Wichita, Kan., was one of the team’s biggest offensive threats; she led KU with 2.86 kpg and posted game-high kills an impressive 13 times throughout the season.

Manda was the team’s back row staple, leading KU with 3.97 dpg, ranking her seventh among Big 12 players. Garlington showed tremendous versatility for the Jayhawks, ranking sixth in the Big 12 with 0.33 aces per game, while also pitching in 2.00 kpg and 1.83 dpg.

A total of 13,104 fans came to watch the Jayhawks at the HorejsiFamilyAthleticsCenter in 2007; the 936 fans per game was the 40th-highest attendance average in the country.

2007 Award Winners

Emily Brown

ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District third team

– Academic All-Big 12 first team

– Big 12 Player of the Week (Sept. 24)

– Jayhawk Classic MVP

– Spartan Invitational all-tournament team

Caitlin Mahoney

– Academic All-Big 12 first team

– Jayhawk Classic all-tournament team

– Big 12 Fall Sports Good Works team

Melissa Grieb

– Academic All-Big 12 first team

Katie Martincich

ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District third team

– Academic All-Big 12 first team

Savannah Noyes

ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District third team

– Academic All-Big 12 first team

– Jayhawk Classic all-tournament team

Natalie Uhart

– Academic All-Big 12 second team

Brittany Williams

– Spartan Invitational all-tournament team