Jayhawks heavily favored in Big 12 volleyball postseason awards

Link Big12Sports.com

IRVING, Texas – Conference champions Kansas volleyball earned the Big 12 Player of the Year (Kelsie Payne), Libero of the Year (Cassie Wait), Setter of the Year (Ainise Havili) and Coach of the Year (Ray Bechard), plus three additional All-Big 12 awards, in an unprecedented postseason awards release by the conference office on Monday. The awards and All-Big 12 teams are voted on by the league’s head coaches.

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne becomes KU’s first-ever Big 12 Player of the Year after helping lead the Jayhawks to the outright Big 12 regular-season title and ranking top-three in kills per set (4.07) and points per set (4.77) during conference action. After a breakout 2015 All-American campaign, Payne’s dynamic offensive talent wasn’t going to catch the conference off guard as she entered 2016 with Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year expectations. Payne lived up to those expectations, and more, while she adjusted to becoming a six-rotation player for the first time in her career – finishing the season with eight double-doubles, five 20-kill performances and 18 matches with at least three blocks.

Junior All-American Ainise Havili earns Big 12 Setter of the Year for the second-straight season to become the first setter to win back-to-back honors since the accolade was first awarded in 2012. During conference play, Havili averaged 10.71 assists per set and helped lead the Jayhawks to the second-best conference hitting percentage. Havili features six matches with 50 or more assists and has a team-high 14 double-doubles.

Senior libero Cassie Wait is the Big 12 coaches’ unanimous decision for Libero of the Year after leading the Big 12 in digs per set (5.11) during conference play. Wait is the first Jayhawk named Big 12 Libero of the Year. Wait, a first-year student in KU’s School of Law, ranks second in career digs at Kansas (1,918), is a three-time 2016 Big 12 Player of the Week (Sept. 5, Sept. 12, Oct. 17) and CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree.

Ray Bechard tabs his second consecutive and fourth career Coach of the Year honor, voted on by his peers. In addition to his status as the winningest coach in KU volleyball history, Bechard claimed the program’s first conference title on his way to leading his Jayhawks to a 26-2 overall record and 15-1 in the Big 12 – living up to the higher expectations set after advancing to the Final Four in 2015. Kansas enters the NCAA tournament a No. 5 seed and ranked fourth in the AVCA Coaches Poll – both program-bests.  

Bechard has won the Big 12 Coach of the Year in four of the last five seasons – 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. During that time span, the Jayhawks have a 129-29 (.816) record. KU’s .918 winning percentage – a 56-5 record – since the start of the 2015 season is the highest in the nation.

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon joins the trio of award winners to represent Kansas on the All-Big 12 First Team. A season after earning second team honors, Rigdon has had her most productive season as a Jayhawk, featuring two nonconference tournament MVP honors (Bulldog Classic, Bluejay Invitational) while leading the Big 12 in aces per set (0.49). Rigdon has increased production across the board in kills, hitting accuracy, digs and service aces.  

Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie earned All-Big 12 honors for the third-straight season, checking in on the second team in 2016. Soucie enters postseason play needing just 21 blocks to own KU’s all-time blocks record. The Osawatomie, Kansas native led the conference in blocks per set (1.52) during Big 12 play this season.

Freshman outside hitter Jada Burse is listed on the Big 12 All-Freshman team as she continues to grow into an increased role on the Jayhawks’ arsenal. Burse finished the season with double-figure kills in five of the last six matches, including back-to-back performances with 16 kills.  

Kansas begins postseason play when playing host the NCAA Championship First and Second Rounds inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The fifth-seeded Jayhawks face Samford on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Central.

Coach of the Year: Ray Bechard, Kansas                                                                            
Player of the Year: Kelsie Payne, Kansas (6-3, Jr., RS, Austin, Texas)
Libero of the Year: Cassie Wait, Kansas (5-8, Sr., Gardner, Kan.)^
Setter of the Year: Ainise Havili, Kansas (5-10, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas/Haltom)
Freshman of the Year: Micaya White, Texas (6-1, OH, Frisco, Texas)^

Kelsie Payne, Kansas**
Ainise Havili, Kansas**
Madison Rigdon, Kansas
Cassie Wait, Kansas**
Katie Staiger, Baylor**
Ebony Nwanebu, Texas**
Micaya White, Texas**
Jessica Schaben, Iowa State
Paulina Prieto Cerame, Texas**
Katie Brand, Kansas State
Marion Hazelwood, Oklahoma
Natalie Gower, TCU
Chloe Collins, Texas
Payton Caffrey, West Virginia

Tayler Soucie, Kansas
Lauren Douglass, Texas Tech
Bryna Vogel, Kansas State
Grace Lazard, Iowa State
Katie Reininger, Kansas State
Micaela Spann, Oklahoma
Jana Brusek, Baylor
Samara West, Iowa State
Reyn Akiu, Texas Tech
Camryn Freiberg, Baylor

Micaya White, Texas**
Payton Caffrey, West Virginia**
Hali Hillegas, Iowa State**
Jada Burse, Kansas
Elle Sandbothe, Kansas State
Erin Slinde, West Virginia

** – Unanimous

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