Full House Welcomed Jayhawks on Fall Sports Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – When volleyball’s Ray Bechard, soccer’s Mark Francis and track and cross country’s Stanley Redwine took to the podium inside Hadl Auditorium, each thanked the crowd in attendance, appreciative of the significant growth in media coverage for the annual Kansas Athletics Fall Sports Media Day Thursday afternoon.
Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard
“We’re 19 practices in, about two weeks, and we’ve got a group that’s working extremely hard. There are obviously a lot of new faces. We’ve got seven returners and seven newcomers. So there’s been good and bad in that. There is a lot of new energy and a lot of ‘want to.’ A lot of stopping and explaining, and going through what we want to get done from a technique effort. But we’ve got plenty of experience to lead the way.
“By position, Maggie Anderson‘s done a great job at taking Ainise Havili under her wing. We’ve probably got our most experience on the outside hitter position, where we have starters back in Sara McClinton, Chelsea Albers and Tiana Dockery. They’ve been very resourceful for newcomer Madison Rigdon. Cassie Wait is returning as our libero/ defensive specialist. We’re very young at that position, but she’s done a great job mentoring newcomers Claire Carpenter, Addison Barry and Tori Miller. In the middle blocker position, we have Tayler Soucie back and Janae Hall and they’ve been great with newcomers Kayla Cheadle and Kelsie Payne. So we have seven that left us and seven that came in. We’re excited about the experience we bring back and the newcomers that are here with us.
“You might consider us pretty inexperienced because we have 11 freshmen and sophomores, but we have a picture on our team notebooks of the match point against Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16 and Soucie is in that picture, Dockery is in that picture, Wait is in that picture and Albers is in that picture. So we had four underclassmen on the floor at match point in that critical time. So we have enough players back who have played extensive minutes and understand what it’s like to play in high-level matches, not only at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas, but other places throughout the country. I know they’re going to do a great job of mentoring the newcomers coming in as we try to continue the momentum we’ve developed over the last couple of years. We want that momentum to turn into a volleyball culture and that volleyball culture to turn into a volleyball tradition. This is a group that can certainly do that.
“We’ve bitten off a pretty significant pre-conference schedule. We open up a week from tomorrow (8/29) with Utah Valley and Lipscomb. Then we have Creighton on Saturday. Creighton is the most noticeable team in that they have everybody returning from a team that was one match away from a Sweet 16. Lipscomb is going to be a 25-to-27-win team, probably, and Utah Valley is going to be in the top couple teams of their league. We go to Denver, we play good teams. We go to Villanova, we see Yale and American. Both teams advanced deep in the NCAA tournament last year. We’ll play Penn State, defending national champion. We’ll see Villanova there and return home to play the likes of Arkansas and Cleveland State. So we’ve got plenty going on before we start our league. Once we do, everybody’s chasing Texas as they have for the last couple of years. They have a chance once again to advance deep into postseason, and I know he feels, coach (Jerritt) Elliot, has a team that can win a national championship, but there’s a ton of teams in the league that feel like they can compete at a high level. The top of our league is going to be very good again but you can’t sleep on the teams that finished fifth through ninth last year because they’ve got tons of kids returning. They’ve got good players coming in, and they’re putting a lot of resources into their programs. So this will be the most competitive from top to bottom league that we’ve had in the past few years I’ve been here.
“It’s an exciting time, not only for our program, but I know Mark (Francis) is very excited about getting his season kicked off at beautiful new Rock Chalk Park. Stanley (Redwine) got a little taste of that last spring with the (Kansas) Relays out there. What a beautiful facility for some of our sports that were long overdue in some facilities. There’s a lot of momentum from last year, I think we had 11 teams within the athletic department that made the NCAA postseason and we’ve got a bunch of teams that are excited about improving this year and trying to continue that tradition. So we’ll get together on Saturday for an event where we get our team out in front of some real live fans and we’re looking forward to that, and obviously its go time a week from tomorrow.
On building from the momentum created over the past couple of years, if there is a difference in attitude overall or is success an expectation as opposed to a hope:
“Once you’ve tasted a little bit of that the last couple of years, we were in the hunt, top-two or three in the league, and competitive with everyone in the league. Then we were one of 16 teams left playing in the middle of December, that certainly has some carry-over effect. With that comes some expectation. As a coaching staff: coach Bird (Laura Kuhn), Coach Todd (Chamberlain) and coach Ian (Choi), we plan everyday how to make things a little more uncomfortable to put them in a situation where the match becomes a little bit easier for them but at the same time knowing suddenly knowing Kansas is a really good RPI match for everybody else. When this preseason ranking stuff, whatever value it has, comes out, it might add some incentives to other teams that play us. We just have to take care of what we’re doing on our side. We can’t control what anybody else is doing and how we train and to this point there’s been a pretty good level of energy each and every day in practice and that’s spilled over into our newcomers because our returners have a certain expectation of how they want this year to go.”
On Kansas volleyball, after creating a name for itself, might go back to being under the radar with half of the team being freshmen:
“I don’t think we’ll be under the radar. I think we have a higher profile reputation now after that last couple of years. But it comes back to the fact that last year doesn’t equal this year, and two years ago doesn’t have anything to do with this year. It’s all about what this group wants to get done. We feel like we were a little disrespected a few years ago when some preseason Big 12 rankings came out. I know we used that as motivation so I can imagine other teams will, too. If you take care of what you’re trying to do each and every day from a standpoint of what your goals are and the level of commitment you’re making, if you’re making yourself a little uncomfortable each and every day and expanding what your comfort zone is, then I think that’s all we can ask for from our kids.”
On the importance of playing a strong non-conference schedule:
“Well we’ve been in that trend for the last couple of years and just from an RPI standpoint that seems to be the tool that the NCAA volleyball selection committee uses the most. First and foremost the goal is, once again, to get into the postseason and so that readies you for that. But beyond that, it does help you get ready for the Big 12 Conference. Obviously, we won’t see a more physical team than Penn State until we see Texas. But we’ll see different styles in Lipscomb and Denver that will ready us to play Texas Tech and West Virginia. So we try to go out and schedule all different types that play faster, teams that are more physical, so that when we see those types of teams in the Big 12, we’ll be ready for whatever style we see.”
On Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton taking over as leaders:
“Absolutely I would say that Chelsea and Sara have done that. But it’s interesting, our team made a decision not to base anything on seniority. They made the decision last spring that there aren’t freshman, there are newcomers. There aren’t seniors, there are returners. So I thought that was a high-level step in leadership right there and I know Soucie and Dockery and Cassie Wait we’re involved in that decision, as was Maggie Anderson, too. Certainly Sara and Chelsea are driving that bus in knowing that they want the newcomers to have a voice and to feel like they can hit the ground running and really add value to our team right away.”
Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton
On her expectations this season:
“I made the Big 12 Preseason Team last season, too, and it kind of put a little more pressure on the season but it also shows that you’ve been performing well and people expect it of you. I personally hope that I can lead the team as an outside hitter and be one of the more offensive players on the team.”
On giving to Locks of Love:
“One of my friends from home got cancer and she was one of the players I was a tag-a-long with growing up playing volleyball. I knew I wanted to support her and that was one way that I could show that I loved her and supported her. I cut 10 inches off of my hair and donated it in honor of her. During camp that was one of the first things the little girls noticed and asked, ‘How are you going to braid your hair this season?’ of all things to ask.”
Being 45 kills away from 1,000 for her career:
“I think it’s personally a huge goal of mine, and I just wanted to be in that top-1,000 kills since I got here freshman year. That’s been a long-term goal and took four years to get here and I’ll likely hit it during these preseason tournaments, but it’s only a side factor. I’d rather have the team winning as a whole than any personal success.”
Volleyball season opener
The Jayhawks take the court for the first time at their annual Crimson and Blue alumni match on Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. inside the Horjesi Family Athletic Center. KU officially opens its season at the Kansas Invitational Aug. 29-30.
Kansas soccer head coach Mark Francis
“Thanks, guys, for being here. In my 16 years of being here, this is the most media we’ve ever had!
“We have our first home game tomorrow. We’ve been going in preseason now for a couple weeks. We had an exhibition game last Friday. We’re in a little bit of a different situation. Last year, I felt was definitely a rebuilding year for us, we had a lot of young players on the field for us who we’ve seen already. That experience has been awesome for them going into this year just in the level that they’re competing at now, as sophomores and juniors. So that’s really encouraging. We have nine returning starters, we have eight new players. In the game on Friday, we actually had four different people starting that had never started for us before. Three freshmen, and then Kaley Smith, who’s been a redshirt. So she actually hasn’t played in the fall for us either yet. Eli Mayr, Lois Heuchan, and Kayla Morrison, three freshmen, who are starting for us, one in the back, two are attacking players, and then Kaley played in the back, too. So we definitely have a different look about us this year with the new players that we added. But I also think our returning players – and I think after last season and us as a group, as a staff and as a team – the players do not want to repeat that experience and we made a lot of changes.
“Very similar to Ray (Bechard), they’re trying to maintain where they are and take that next step up. We obviously want to be where they’re at right now. Since I’ve been here we have repeated and been to the tournament several times in a row and we want to get back to doing that. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been in the NCAA Tournament and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a group that can do that. It’s a different mentality totally with this group, that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed in terms of the intensity day in, day out.
“I think the returners have done an unbelievable job of assimilating the new players in; you have eight players in when you have 26, that’s a big group that are brand new. And just like Ray, we’ve had a lot of times where we had to stop stuff, do stuff with video. We’re also playing a different formation that we’ve never played before so all the players are trying to learn that. It’s a formation that’s going to allow us more offense and that’s why we changed it, to do that. We’ve already seen that in the exhibition game, we won three nothing, probably should’ve had a few more. So I think you’re definitely going to see a lot more offense from this group.
“For our non-conference schedule, very similar to volleyball, we have a very competitive non-conference schedule. We have SMU on Sunday and we have Wyoming Friday, who we’ve never played before. SMU on Sunday, that’s my alma mater, but they’ve done very well. We have Wake Forest coming here from the ACC. We go to Marquette, we go to Denver, Colorado who were both in the tournament last year. And then of course the Big 12 which is extremely competitive from top to bottom. So I think the non-conference schedule is going to be challenging for us absolutely no doubt, but again I think, like Ray said, it’s going to prepare us. We could play a different schedule, play a bunch of teams that we’re going to beat very easily, but come Big 12 play it would be a wakeup call so we tend to not do that. Also from an RPI standpoint, like Ray talked about, it’s very important in our sport too. Those games are going to help us with our RPI. Obviously, the conference games help but we’ve got to play a strong non-conference schedule also. I feel like we have it set up this year to do that.
“We have 13 home games this year out of 20. Obviously we’re in a new facility. Actually, we get to train in it tonight for the first time. We haven’t been out there. We get to train there tonight under the lights and play our first home game there tomorrow, which I know the kids are really excited about.
“As a coach that’s been here for 16 years, it just means I’m old. I appreciate the Fritzel family and what they’ve done to make this a reality. I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve had a lot of athletic directors and a lot of them have told me new facility in two years or three years. Well this is a lot of ‘two or three years’ later, but I appreciate Dr. Zenger for making this a reality for our players. I want to say that it’s really for all the players that have come before our current players that were also promised the new facility by me because I was being promised the new facility. So if they ever see this online, they can now know that I wasn’t lying to them. It’s just been a little bit longer than we thought.
“But two things I’m really excited about: the new facility is really going to help us. Number one, is just from a player-fan experience. And our field out here (Jayhawk Soccer Complex) has been awesome, the surface is one of the best in the Big 12. But you look at the infrastructure around it, high school stadiums have a better setup than we do, which is pretty sad. But we’ve been dealing with that from a player and fan experience in recruiting, especially in recruiting standpoint, for the last 15 years. Now you look at the facility that we have (Rock Chalk Park) and I can tell you this: I can’t name names, but we’ve already gotten commitments from kids on visits, partly because of that facility. You take them out there, and we’re recruiting kids at 15 years old now. You take a 15-year old out there, it’s a ‘wow’ factor and that’s really what that’s going to do for us in terms of recruiting.
“We will have a much better season this year so that’s also going to help us. But when you bring kids out and you show them that type of facility, there’s just absolutely no doubt in my mind it’s going to allow us to continue to recruit quality student-athletes to help elevate our program to where we want to go. So I’m really excited about that, but the second part of it is not only recruiting but just for our players. Playing under the lights, you just get jacked up when you play under the lights. I did when I played. You can’t explain it, but as an athlete it’s just exciting. So I’m really excited for our kids to get to experience that – for the first time ever for a Kansas program – to play under the lights so that’s going to be huge.
“In soccer I would tell you, top to bottom, anybody in our conference could win it. And it was really that way last year. You look at our results last year in our conference, numerous games that we lost by a goal, one that we tied, we barely lost to West Virginia who was by far the best team in the conference. So I’ll be honest with you, I look at the group I have right now and I think this group can challenge to finish very high in the conference and I’m very comfortable saying that. From a team that finished tied, I don’t know what we were, tied sixth or tied seventh, but this is a different team. I’m very excited about the possibilities for our group.
“One of the things I would like to say is that we changed a lot of things. When you have a year like we had last year, as a coach, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t look at it and say, ‘Okay, what do we need to do different.’ We do that every year. But we changed a lot of things, we changed stuff in the strength room, we had unbelievable results in the strength room in the spring and over the summer. That was one of the big changes we made. I went to our sport supervisor, Jane Fulton, and I said, ‘Hey, is it possible to have our kids come for summer school (both) June and July? Football does it, can we do it?’ We’ve never done that before, our kids have come in July, and with Jane’s backing she pushed for that, we were able to get the funding to allow our kids to be here June and July and the majority of the team committed to that. Talking to our kids now, they all swear to you it made a huge difference in our preparation going into the season, having kids here for eight, nine weeks prior to preseason. I think that shows the level of commitment from the group, that they want to make some changes and I think that’s already in place.
On if he could offer any details on the new offense:
“No. I’m not going to say because we have two games coming up this weekend and we had an agreement with the people we’ve played already not to share scouting reports. So if I run through the details with you they’re going to pull it up and say, ‘Okay that’s how Kansas is running.’ I will tell you that the formation definitely lends to the qualities and the strengths of the personnel – the attacking personnel that we have. Playing the formation that we played last year with this group would not be as effective. That was one of the things that we decided as a staff that we need to come up with something a little different that’s going to best suit – as a soccer coach, if you’re a good soccer coach, you base your formation off of your players that you have. You don’t come up with some great formation that someone else plays and say, ‘Well that’s really cool, let’s do that.’ It’s based off the strength of the players that you have and that’s how we formed this system. It’s very different. I could probably tell you there’s nobody else in our conference playing this system that we’re playing because it is different. But I’m different, I like to be different.”
On when Aurélie Gagnet will join the team again:
“Aurelie was in the Under-20 World Cup playing for France. She started for them last night in the semifinal against Germany. Unfortunately, they lost 2-1 in the 85th minute. I would anticipate she will probably be in maybe some time tomorrow or Saturday. She’s coming from Canada. She’s not coming from France which will make it a little bit easier for her from a jet lag standpoint. I would guess she would probably be available Sunday if we needed her, for sure by next weekend. We were also missing Ashley Pankey and Jamie Fletcher, two players that will definitely be seeing significant minutes for us, they weren’t able to play Friday. I don’t know if either one of them will be available this weekend. We’re still waiting to determine that, probably tomorrow.”
On his confidence with the back line having Kaitlyn Stroud in goal:
“Right now Kaitlyn Stroud will be our starting goalkeeper, she’s established herself as the starter. I think we have a very strong goalkeeper crew. Top to bottom, this is probably the strongest goalkeeping crew we’ve had since I got here and I think that’s good for everybody including Kaitlyn, because she’s not going to be able to sit back and chill thinking she’s the starter.”
On how the returning players have impacted training:
“We changed training a little bit, there are things we’re doing differently. I think in training you’ve got to put your players in situations where they’re not comfortable. If it’s easy and you’re not making mistakes, you’re not getting better. So we push them and put them in situations and environments that are difficult. Sometimes more difficult than what they’re going to see in games.
“We did a different fitness test also and they responded to it. That’s the amazing thing, if you challenge them, with the group that we have, they’re going to step up to that challenge. Our fitness test we used to have was pass/fail. Coach (Andrea) Hudy helped us with the one that we did this year and it’s not pass/fail. You have to complete it but it’s not pass/fail, it’s a ranking. You get ranked from one to 26 based off of how fit you are compared to your teammates. So it’s really a competitive test.”
On if there has been a sense of urgency with this group:
“For sure. We have a lot of seniors who want to finish strong. This group of seniors went to the NCAA’s as freshmen and they haven’t been the last two years. I know they’re hungry to get back. And I know that’s been a big emphasis in terms of what they want to get done this year.”
His thoughts on the game Friday against Wyoming:
“The first game of the season is always difficult because we’ve played one exhibition and so have they but you go into that game probably the least prepared of any game you play during the entire year. Not only because it’s your first game, but also because you know very little about your opponent. Almost everybody in exhibition games makes an agreement with your opponent not to share video or scouting reports. So we’re going into the game tomorrow against Wyoming – they don’t know a lot about us but we don’t know a lot about them. You have to prepare the team if they play this way we do this, if they play this way we do that. A lot of it is going to come down to the players figuring it out on the field.”
Sophomore midfielder/defender Tayler Estrada
On Rock Chalk Park:
“It really brings your confidence down when you’d go out to play a team and you don’t think your stadium is nice and you don’t think you deserve to have a nice stadium. Now that we have a nice stadium we’ve changed our mentality and know we need to start new and fresh and play like we’re in a new stadium.”
On the biggest thing she’s improved on:
“Our fitness and our team fusion has been most improved over the summer. I think it’ll help a lot this year when we’re down 1-0 in the last 10 minutes and we’re not fighting each other but fighting the other team. I felt like everyone fell apart in the last 10 minutes (last season) when we were down, but now that we have chemistry we’re going to be able to come together a lot better and be able to put a goal in.”
On the importance of having a senior goalkeeper:
“Honestly I would put any one of the three in there. We are confident in any of our goalkeepers. I don’t want to say having a senior one is not important, but we can trust all three of our keepers.”
Soccer season opener
Kansas soccer will play its inaugural match at the team’s new home field, Rock Chalk Park, when the Jayhawks play host to the Wyoming Cowgirls on Friday, Aug. 22 at 7 p.m.
Head cross country coach Stanley Redwine
“Hello and thank you, everyone, for coming. Coach Francis was talking about Rock Chalk Park; we did have our first year for track & field at Rock Chalk Park last year and it was great. People are still talking about how nice of experience it was for them, how nice of a facility it is. When you mention fan experience, I get on the phone now and recruits are mentioning to me about Rock Chalk Park. So, from a recruiting standpoint, the word gets out. It’s going to get out for softball and soccer, too. It’s a great place to be. I, too, thank the Fritzels for helping us get it together, along with Dr. (Sheahon) Zenger.
“As it relates to cross country, we are really excited about it. We had a really young team last year on the women’s side. There were 13 freshmen last year, all trying to fill a spot and feeling out where they were supposed to be. We had some really good leadership also, but between injuries and freshmen we were kind of not knowing who our first person was going to be and not knowing who our fifth person was going to be. This ?year the goal is that we have to stay healthy and continue to be competitive. Those people who were freshmen last year have really stepped up as sophomores and are pushing the juniors—we don’t have any seniors, so we are excited about that too.
“Our leading people, right now, are Hayley Francis, who is doing a really good job. When Coach (Mark Francis, soccer) was speaking, I was thinking, ‘Wow, it is really special to have our coach speak and then you have his daughter here (as another sports’ student-athlete representative) that’s pretty amazing also.’
“I think our women are going to be competitive. We are hosting the Big 12’s (Conference Cross Country Championships), and definitely need to be competitive and do well at that meet because the meet is here at Rim Rock. When you’re talking about great facilities, Rim Rock is one of best facilities around. Hopefully we show our competitors this is a great place that is committed to cross country and we are going to be successful.
“On our men’s side, we have had Evan Landes do a great job for us. We have two of the top-15 returning regional athletes on our team and I think that’s a great place to start as far as leadership on our team, as far as knowing what it takes to be successful. With the addition of some of our new athletes, I believe we are going to have a team that is going to be near the top of the Big 12 (at the) league meet here this year and push into the national team. Our goal is not to just do well in our conference meet, but to make nationals, both men and women. In order to do that, we have to stay healthy.
“We are excited as far as some changes we’ve made in order to be stronger both physically and mentally. We have a new strength coach (Jeff Kipp) that has a lot of experience with distance runners. I think Jeff will come in and make an immediate impact on our team and help us get to the next level.
“As well as our athletes, their attitude has changed. They have a great attitude to succeed and I think that’s one of the things, as coaches, that we look for. Coach (Michael) Whittlesey comes in every day excited about the direction of the team. They’ve only been back training for five days now, but already they are looking better than the team did last year. And rightly so, we need it. They are probably really tired right now from two-a-days, but we are working them through it. Our first meet is next week, on Saturday, Aug. 30. We have to be able to be healthy at the end of the year and be both mentally and physically strong. Those are the things we are looking to do.
“Both of our teams were ranked in the top-five in the region last year and that’s the first step in getting to the NCAAs (Cross Country Championships). It took (being) the top-two teams, automatically, to get there. So we are close, but not there yet. In order for us to get there, we have to continue to push everyone.”
Cross Country junior Hayley Francis
On the upcoming season:
“I think the hype surrounding Rock Chalk Park during track season and being able to perform there is carrying over into cross country. We’re really excited to be able to have conference championships at home I know that we have some big goals especially coming off fifth place, which is the best the women’s program has ever finished. I just think that we have a lot of newcomers but we know what to expect and I think that we have a lot more depth than last year. We’re excited to be home and show off for it. We’re doing a lot of hill work to prepare for it as Rim Rock is known for all the hills. We’re excited to carry that energy into regionals and hopefully nationals.”
How the team has improved this off-season:
“We’re all on our own in the summer, but I think there was an expectation after last year to raise the bar. I know all of us were in contact and that everyone was working really hard. Everyone knew that everyone else was working so we wanted to be strong comparatively but also as a unit. Within this past week and a half we’re all in pretty good shape but still have a ways to go but we all worked to a point this summer where we’ll see good things this season.”
Cross Country senior Evan Landes
His expectations of the season:
“I feel really confident and excited about the team we have, you can feel the energy and atmosphere that we’ve created. From the older guys I feel like we’ve always raised the bar a little bit. The younger guys come in and don’t really know any better and that’s good in a way because we can set the expectations.”
Cross Country Season Opener
The Jayhawks will open their season at home on Aug. 30 at the Bob Timmons Dual Classic at Rim Rock Farm.
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