No. 4 Kansas volleyball begins NCAA postseason journey Thursday against Samford
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The reigning 2015 NCAA semifinalist Kansas volleyball program begins another quest in the NCAA Tournament starting Thursday against Samford in Horejsi Family Athletics Center. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. Central on ESPN3 and the Jayhawk Radio Network.
The fourth-ranked Jayhawks are hosting the first and second rounds of the tournament for the fifth-straight season as 2016 Big 12 Champions with a program-best No. 5 seed in the 64-team field.
Creighton faces Northern Iowa at 4 p.m. Central in the first match of the day on Thursday. The winner of Kansas-Samford will face the winner of Creighton-Northern Iowa on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Central.
Live video streaming coverage of all three matches in Lawrence will be available on ESPN3, produced by KU Athletics’ own Rock Chalk Video.
Kansas and Samford will meet for the first time in program history, while Kansas has faced both Northern Iowa and Creighton already this season. The Jayhawks defeated Northern Iowa in straight sets at home on Sept. 10, and defeated Creighton on the road in five sets on Sept. 8.
Kansas leads the all-time series with Creighton, 9-1. The Jayhawks boast a 6-0 record against the Bluejays at home.
Kansas leads the all-time series with Northern Iowa, 3-10-1. The Jayhawks snapped a nine-match series losing streak against the Panthers with a 3-0 win on Sept. 10 this season.
KANSAS IN THE NCAAs
KU enters this week’s action with a 9-7 all-time record in eight postseason appearances. Last season, then-No. 9 seed Kansas recorded a 4-1 record in the tournament to advance to the NCAA semifinal round after knocking off No. 1 USC at the regional finals in San Diego.
The Jayhawks are among seven elite programs to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Championship in the last five seasons, joining Stanford, Penn State, Nebraska, Texas, Washington, and Florida.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONS
Kansas clinched at least a share of its first-ever conference title on Nov. 19 with a five-set victory over Iowa State. In the 21-year history of the Big 12 Conference, Kansas is the second team other than Texas or Nebraska to win or share a Big 12 volleyball title. Kansas State won the title in 2003.
JAYHAWKS NEARLY SWEEP BIG 12 AWARDS
Kansas 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 this season. Madison Rigdon earned All-Big 12 First Team honors with Payne, Wait, and Havili. Tayler Soucie earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors. Jada Burse earned a Big 12 All-Freshman Team nod.
The awards and All-Big 12 teams are voted on by the league’s head coaches.
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.
Havili earns Big 12 Setter of the Year in back-to-back seasons 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.
Wait is the Big 12 coaches’ unanimous decision for Libero of the Year after leading the Big 12 in digs per set (5.10) . Wait is the first Jayhawk named Big 12 Libero of the Year. The 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 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree.
Coach 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.
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.
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.
Burse is listed on the Big 12 All-Freshman team as her role continues to grow 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.
BECHARD REACHES 350 WINS AT KU
Ray Bechard won his 350th match as head coach at Kansas after KU defeated Iowa State on Nov. 19. The 19th-year head coach is the winningest coach in program history with a 351-231 (.603) record. Since 2012, Kansas has posted a 129-29 (.816) record under Bechard. It only took 55 matches for Bechard to go from 300 wins to 350 wins; since reaching his 300th win (Sept. 4, 2015), the Jayhawks went 50-5.
WINS FOR SENIOR CLASS
Seniors Maggie Anderson, Tayler Soucie and Cassie Wait are 102-22 (.823) in their four-year playing careers at Kansas. The tremendous trio has the best four-year winning percentage in program history.
RACKING UP THE DUBS
Kansas boasts the highest winning percentage in the nation since the start of the 2015 season. The Jayhawks are 56-5 (.918) since last season, better than 2015 national champion Nebraska at 59-6 (.908) and Texas at 52-7 (.881).
KU’s 25-2 (.926) record this season currently stands as the highest winning percentage in program history, just ahead of last season’s Final Four campaign which finished with a 30-3 (.909) record.
Kansas is winners of its last 14 matches — its second winning streak of 10 matches or more this season. The 2016 season becomes the first in program history the Jayhawks have had two winning streaks of 10 matches or more. KU currently has the longest winning streak among all power-five conference teams.
The winning streak is also the third-longest in program history and the longest late-season winning streak in program history (starting on the 15th match of the season). Previous 10-match winning streaks or longer have started within the first two matches of the season.
Kansas went undefeated during the month of October (8-0) and November (6-0) for the first time in program history.
Kansas associate athletics director for academic and career counseling Dr. Scott “Scooter” Ward is on the path towards recovery after recent emergency open-heart surgery on Oct. 7. Kansas volleyball has chosen to wear #RootForScoot shirts during warm ups for the remainder of the season to show their support for their long-time mentor and friend. Ward has worked with the Kansas men’s basketball and volleyball programs since 2003.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Kansas is on a 16-match home winning streak, including a 12-0 record this season. It is the fourth-longest active home winning streak in NCAA Division I volleyball. The Jayhawks are 33-1 in the last 34 matches inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
Kansas finished the regular season with its first-ever undefeated home schedule in program history.
SOUCIE’S BLOCK PARTY
Three-time All-Big 12 performed Tayler Soucie led the Big 12 in blocks per set during league play this season and finished the regular season with at least six blocks in the last seven matches. With six blocks at Oklahoma (Nov. 5), the senior middle blocker became the third Jayhawk to reach 500 career blocks and the second Jayhawk to reach 100 blocks all four seasons of her career. She ended the match with those exact numbers – 500 career blocks and 100 blocks on the season. Soucie contributed three of her six blocks on the night in a critical fourth set, which Kansas rallied from a late six-point deficit, 18-12, to clinch the four-set victory in extra points, 27-25.
Soucie ranks second in KU career blocks behind Caroline Jarmoc (555), who is the only other Jayhawk to reach 100 blocks in a season all four years of her collegiate career.
Kansas has won all eight of its five-set matches this season, including five in the last seven matches. During last season’s unprecedented run to the Final Four, the Jayhawks played two five-set matches the entire season – against No. 5 Texas and a win the NCAA regional final against No. 1 USC.
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