No. 9 Kansas volleyball primed for Wolverine Invitational


  • Ninth-ranked Kansas volleyball travels to Orem, Utah, for the Wolverine Classic, hosted by Utah Valley this weekend. The Jayhawks start the competition against Utah Valley on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. Central, followed by Long Beach State on Friday and Montana on Saturday.
  • KU is ranked No. 9 in the AVCA preseason coaches’ poll and was picked second in the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll.
  • Kansas features three returning All-Americans from its 2016 Big 12 championship season – senior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne, senior setter Ainise Havili and senior outside hitter Madison Rigdon. All three were unanimous selections to the 2017 Preseason All-Big 12 Team.
  • The Jayhawks have the highest winning percentage in the country since the start of the 2015 season (.909).
  • Ray Bechard is entering his 20th season as head coach at KU. He is the program’s all-time winningest coach at 355-232 (.605).
  • Kansas opened the season by winning its ninth nonconference tournament title in the last 10 tries at the Wolfpack Invitational.
  • KU is coming off back-to-back unprecedented seasons – advancing to the Final Four in 2015 and winning the program’s first-ever Big 12 Conference title in 2016.

All of KU’s matches during the three-day Wolverine Invitational will be video streamed live by FloVolleyball ($) and audio streamed on (FREE). FloVolleyball’s live video streaming is available with a monthly ($29.99) or annual ($150.00) subscription to FloPRO.

Kansas and Utah Valley will meet for the fourth time in series history on Thursday. The Jayhawks hold a series advantage of 3-0. KU has won the last two meetings in straight-set fashion – both in Lawrence. The last time the two teams met (Aug. 29, 2014), it marked the first collegiate match for six current KU seniors – Addison Barry (four digs), Kayla Cheadle (five kills, three blocks), Ainise Havili (28 assists, eight digs), Tori Miller, Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon (six kills, two aces). 

Kansas and Long Beach State meet for the second time in program history on Friday. The Jayhawks swept the 49ers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Malibu, California, on Dec. 4, 2003. It marked the first NCAA Tournament victory in Kansas volleyball history. The 49ers feature first-year head coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer following the retirement of hall-of-fame coach Brian Gimmillaro after 32 years on the sidelines.

“He was as disciplined and organized in what he wanted as any coach there was,” Bechard said of Gimmillaro. “He was extremely confident in his methods, to a point where his teams were extremely disciplined. He won a national championship — went undefeated one year. One of the best matches I’ve ever seen was his Long Beach State team against Penn State when they were both undefeated in a national championship match. Misty May is the biggest name in the long list of his players that went on to have careers with the U.S. National Team.”

Kansas and Montana meet for the third time in program history on Saturday. Montana won the first meeting in Springfield, Missouri. The last time the teams met, Kansas defeated the Griz, 3-1 on Sept. 7, 2001, at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

Kansas opened the 2017 season by capturing the Wolfpack Invitational title with a win over Missouri State and a pair of wins over host NC State. The season began with a victory over NC State (25-20, 25-23, 23-25, 26-24) as All-American Madison Rigdon secured KU’s fifth-straight road-opening win with an ace on match point. In a four-set win over Missouri State (25-23, 25-23, 21-25, 25-19), the Jayhawks recorded 19.0 team blocks – the most in a match since posting 20.5 team rejections on Nov. 29, 2014. Kansas concluded the event with a five-set win over NC State (26-28, 25-17, 22-25, 25-17, 15-8). Ainise Havili posted 63 assists, 14 digs and three blocks while directing KU’s offense to a .350 hitting percentage in the rematch against the Wolfpack. Havili earned tournament MVP honors, while first-year starting libero Allie Nelson and All-American Kelsie Payne were all-tournament honorees.

After the first week of the regular season, Kansas received a No. 9 ranking in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll this week. The reigning Big 12 champion Jayhawks have been ranked 33-straight times in the AVCA poll, including 27 of the last 28 polls in the top-10. KU began the season ranked No. 8 in the preseason poll.

The Jayhawks will face five teams ranked in the current top-25, including No. 4 Texas, No. 7 Creighton, No. 13 Kentucky, No. 21 Purdue and No. 25 Iowa State.

Senior All-American setter Ainise Havili was named the first Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week of the 2017 season after leading the Jayhawks to the Wolfpack Invitational title with a 3-0 record while averaging 12.31 assists per set and 4.15 digs per set. The Fort Worth, Texas, native was named MVP of the season-opening event after posting three-straight double-doubles. She started with 54 assists and 22 digs in a four-set victory at NC State (Aug. 25). The next day she posted 43 assists and 18 digs with two blocks in a four-set win over Missouri State (Aug. 26) and became the fourth Jayhawk to reach 4,000 career assists. Havili then reached 60 assists for the second time in her career with 63 in a five-set win at NC State (Aug. 26), while adding three kills, 14 digs and three blocks against the Wolfpack.

It is the third Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week nod for the two-time reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year.

Through three regular-season matches, Kansas paced the Big 12 in kills per set (15.31) and assists per set (14.23). Senior All-Americans Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne lead the Big 12 in assists per set (12.31) and kills per set (4.54), respectively. Sophomore libero Allie Nelson leads the conference in total digs (67). Senior middle blocker Taylor Alexander recorded seven blocks against NC State (Aug. 26), which tied for a Big 12 match-high during the opening weekend.

Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard announced on Aug. 29 the hiring of former setter Maggie Anderson ’16 to his staff as the director of volleyball operations. Anderson rejoins the Kansas volleyball program after a five-year playing career from 2012 to 2016, in which she helped the Jayhawks to 130 victories, a berth in the 2015 Final Four and the 2016 Big 12 Conference title.

Anderson will help with the day-to-day operations of the program, including but not limited to travel arrangements, managing schedules, organizing summer camps and K Club relations. The Lincoln, Nebraska, native was a three-time member of the Academic All-Big 12 First Team during her career at Kansas. Anderson graduated in December 2016 with a degree in supply chain management from the School of Business. She returns to KU after full-time experience as a corporate recruiter.

Kansas will play in every contiguous U.S. time zone during nonconference play this season. The Jayhawks traveled to North Carolina State (ET) to open the regular season, Utah Valley (MT) in the second week and Santa Clara (PT) in the fourth and final week of nonconference play. KU also hosts four matches in Lawrence (CT) in the third week of the regular season.

Kansas is making its third trip to Utah – the Beehive State – this weekend. KU’s first trip was a road loss at BYU in 1973. The Jayhawks’ last trip to Utah was for a nonconference tournament hosted by BYU with three matches against BYU, Utah Valley and Montana State in 2005. Kansas is 2-2 all-time in Utah.

Ray Bechard is in his 20th season as head coach of Kansas volleyball this season. During his tenure as the leader of the program, Bechard has become the winningest coach in program history while charting unprecedented territory. The western Kansas native has recruited and coached all nine of KU’s AVCA All-Americans and has more than 1,000 career victories in his 33-year head coaching career at Barton County Community College (1985-97) and KU (1998-present).

Progress under Bechard
1998: Bechard’s first season at KU
2000: Undefeated in nonconference
2003: KU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, first NCAA Tournament win, first 20-win season since 1991, First AVCA All-American (Josi Lima)
2004: NCAA Tournament appearance, undefeated in nonconference
2005: NCAA Tournament appearance
2012: First national ranking in the final AVCA poll of the season (No. 25), top-10 finish in the NCAA RPI (No. 9), first NCAA Tournament top-16 seed (No. 11)
2013: First NCAA Tournament regional semifinal appearance
2015: First NCAA Tournament regional final and national semifinal appearances, first first-team AVCA All-Americans (Kelsie Payne, Ainise Havili), highest ranking in the final AVCA poll of the season (No. 4), first win over a No. 1-ranked team (USC)
2016: First Big 12 Conference title

Kansas has won 29 of the last 30 matches against nonconference opponents during the regular season. That stretch includes winning nine of the last 10 nonconference tournament titles and a 25-match winning streak. KU’s 25-match regular-season nonconference winning streak lasted from a win over North Texas on Sept. 19, 2014, to a loss at Purdue on Sept. 16, 2016.

The Jayhawks have gone undefeated through the nonconference portion of the regular season four times under head coach Ray Bechard (2000, 2002, 2004 and 2015) and are 183-30 (.859) against nonconference teams during the regular season since his arrival.

Nonconference Tourney Titles Since 2014 (MVP)
2014 – Jayhawk Classic (Cassie Wait)
2015 – Arkansas Invitational (Ainise Havili)
2015 – Kansas Invitational (Cassie Wait)
2015 – Pistol Pete’s Showdown (Madison Rigdon)
2015 – Jayhawk Classic (Tiana Dockery)
2016 – Bulldog Invitational (Madison Rigdon)
2016 – Kansas Invitational (Kelsie Payne)
2016 – Bluejay Invitational (Madison Rigdon)
2017 – Wolfpack Invitational (Ainise Havili)

Senior All-Americans Kelsie Payne, Ainise Havili and Madison Rigdon are on pace to rewrite KU’s record books.

While earning Wolfpack Invitational and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors during the opening weekend of the 2017 season, Havili became the fourth Jayhawk to reach 4,000 career assists. Havili stands fourth in career assists (4,073). She passed the 4,000 mark with 43 assists against Missouri State (Aug. 26). Andi Rozum (2002-05) currently holds KU’s career assists record with 4,772.

Payne ranks first in career hitting percentage (.352) and 11th in career kills (1,078). Last season Payne became the 15th Jayhawk to reach 1,000 kills and looks to take the next step this season. She enters 2017 with 1,078 kills and now needs 405 more to tie the current record of 1,078, held by Josi Lima (2002-05). Payne’s .352 hitting percentage is currently tops in KU’s record books.

Rigdon ranks tied for 19th in career kills (931). She is on pace to become the 16th Jayhawk to reach the century mark in career kills soon. The Pflugerville, Texas, native enters the weekend needing 69 kills to reach 1,000.

Since the start of the 2015 season, Kansas has the highest winning percentage in the country (.909). The Jayhawks are 60-6 in the last three seasons and join Western Kentucky as the only two programs in NCAA Division I volleyball with a winning percentage at least .900 or higher. Fellow Big 12 member Texas is tied for seventh on the list with a .866 winning percentage the last three seasons.

NCAA Division I Winning Percentage Since 2015
Through Aug. 28
1. KANSAS: 60-6 (.909)
2. WKU: 66-7 (.904)
3. BYU: 60-8 (.882)
4. Nebraska: 63-9 (.875)
5. Washington: 62-9 (.873)
6. Dayton: 59-9 (.868)
7. Texas: 58-9 (.866)

In the last five seasons, since 2012, Kansas has simply been one the elite programs in the country with five-straight …

• NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Final Four in 2015
• Top-15 finishes in the NCAA RPI, including a No. 5 finish in 2016
• 20-win seasons, including one 30-win season in 2015
• Home winning percentages over .800, including a .933 clip in the last two seasons

Five-straight top-15 NCAA RPI finishes

The Jayhawks improved to 14-6 in true road openers, including five-straight wins, under head coach Ray Bechard with a win at NC State on Aug. 25. For the first time since the 2008 and 2009 seasons, KU opened the regular season with a true road contest in back-to-back years – at Mississippi State in 2016 and at NC State in 2017.

Last Four Road Openers
2013: at Arizona (W, 3-1)
2014: at Denver (W, 3-1)
2015: at Arkansas (W, 3-1)
2016: at Mississippi State (W, 3-0) *
2017: at NC State (W, 3-1) *

* – Also the regular-season opener

Kansas returns 84 percent of last season’s total points scored, including 86 percent of the team’s kills. The Jayhawks return six players with starting experience and lost two perennial starters in All-American libero Cassie Wait and four-year starting middle blocker Tayler Soucie. Right-side hitter Kelsie Payne, setter Ainise Havili, outside hitters Madison Rigdon and Jada Burse, and middle blockers Kayla Cheadle and Zoe Hill all received substantial playing time as starters in 2016.

Percentage of KU Stats Returning from 2016
Kills: 86%
Assists: 90%
Digs: 64%
Block Assists: 73%
Solo Blocks: 68%
Aces: 85%
Points: 84%

Kansas defeated UMKC, 4-0, in exhibition play on Aug. 18 at a sold-out Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The Jayhawks jumped out to dominating leads of 12-2 in the first set and 14-4 in the second set and held the ‘Roos to a .063 hitting percentage for the match. Kelsie Payne led KU with 10 kills, while Ainise Havili recorded a team-high 12 digs and also set the pace for the offense with 38 assists. Allie Nelson started at libero, recording 11 digs. KU and UMKC will co-host the NCAA Championship at Sprint Center in December.

For the second-consecutive season, KU’s home court, Horejsi Family Athletics Center (1,300), has sold out its allotment of season tickets. Fans hoping to attend matches this season can visit StubHub, the ‘Official Fan to Fan Ticket Marketplace’ of the Kansas Jayhawks.

Sophomore outside hitter Patricia Montero will not compete during the 2017 season due to an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee which occurred during preseason practice. The Puerto Rico native was primed for a productive season as “nobody was playing as well as she was during our two-a-days,” head coach Ray Bechard said during media day on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Montero underwent successful reconstructive surgery in late August.

Kansas was voted second with three first-place votes in the Big 12 volleyball preseason coaches’ poll this season. The Jayhawks totaled 59 points in the poll, just three shy of league favorite and the nation’s preseason top-ranked team, Texas. KU’s three first-place votes in the preseason poll are the most in program history. The Jayhawks were also picked to finished second before the 2014 and 2016 seasons – both times with one first-place vote.

For the second-straight season, senior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne has been tabbed as the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year by the conference coaches. In 2016, Payne lived up to her preseason billing, becoming the first Jayhawk to earn Big 12 Player of the Year honors after leading Kansas to its first-ever Big 12 title. In addition to preseason player of the year honors, Payne and senior All-American setter Ainise Havili and senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon were unanimous selections to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

Kansas returns three All-Americans from its 2016 Big 12 championship team, including senior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne (first-team), senior setter Ainise Havili (third team) and senior outside hitter Madison Rigdon (honorable mention). Graduated libero Cassie Wait was the fourth Jayhawk named an All-American last season, earning honorable mention distinction.

Senior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne (2015, 2016), Texas right-side hitter Ebony Nwanebu (2013, 2016) and Penn State middle blocker Haleigh Washington (2015, 2016) are the only three returning players in the country with two appearances on the AVCA All-America First Team. Senior setter Ainise Havili has also multiple All-America nods, but just one appearance on the first team – honorable mention in 2014, first-team in 2015 and third-team in 2016.

KU Career Kills
1. Josi Lima (2002-05): 1,483
8. Mary Beth Albrecht (1996-99): 1,171
9. Emily Brown (2004-07): 1,168
10. Judy Desch (1984-87): 1,146
11. Kelsie Payne (2014-present): 1,078

16. Kris Kleinschmidt (1988-91): 946
17. Amy Myatt (1997-00): 936
18. Kendra Kahler (1994-97): 933
19. Madison Rigdon (2014-present): 931
Kim DeHoff (1988, 90-92): 931

KU Career Assists
1. Andi Rozum (2002-05): 4,772
2. Julie Woodruff (1988-91): 4,209
3. Molly LaMere (1998-01): 4,108
4. Ainise Havili (2014-present): 4,073

KU Career Hitting Percentage
1. Kelsie Payne (2014-present): .352

Senior All-Americans Madison Rigdon and Kelsie Payne competed for USA Volleyball’s Collegiate National Team program during the summer of 2017. Rigdon played for the 12-player roster that toured Thailand, May 19-30, and competed in a series of exhibition matches. Payne played on the European Tour roster, winning the gold medal at the European Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia, July 11-14. Both Rigdon and Payne will see their USA Volleyball coaches as opposing coaches during the 2017 season.

Kansas began its offseason training with a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii, during spring break to compete against the University of Hawaii on March 21. The Jayhawks had two full days of preparation before taking on the Rainbow Wahine, who played without recently retired hall-of-fame head coach Dave Shoji for the first time in over 40 years. KU was edged by Hawaii in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 25-20, 27-25, 15-11) despite holding match point in the fourth set, which featured 14 ties and six lead changes. Ainise Havili recorded 43 assists and three kills, including a setter’s dump to give Kansas match point in the fourth set. Hawaii rallied to force a fifth set and Kansas started Havili, Kelsie Payne, Madison Rigdon and Kayla Cheadle in all five sets, and rotated position players for its second outside hitter, second middle blocker and libero positions. 

The Jayhawks finished the 2016 season as Big 12 Champions for the first time in program history with a 27-3 overall record and 15-1 mark during conference play. After advancing to the NCAA Final Four in 2015, Kansas followed up with another flourishing campaign featuring two winning streaks longer than 10 matches, a top-10 ranking throughout the regular season (peaking at No. 4), and the program’s highest seed in the NCAA Tournament (No. 5).

The squad was led by four AVCA All-Americans in junior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne (first team), junior setter Ainise Havili (third team), senior libero Cassie Wait (honorable mention) and junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon (honorable mention). Kansas also nearly swept the Big 12 postseason awards, earning the league’s Player of the Year (Payne), Setter of the Year (Havili), Libero of the Year (Wait) and Coach of the Year (Ray Bechard).

All-Americans Kelsie Payne, Ainise Havili and Madison Rigdon are currently carving their legacies in Kansas volleyball history, but with the 2017-18 academic year underway it is a great reminder of those who pioneered and paved the way for future female student-athletes to don the Crimson and Blue. The opportunity for women to compete for the University of Kansas was solidified in 1968. This school year, then, marks the 50th season of intercollegiate women’s athletics at KU, and the Department of Athletics will take the year to celebrate this milestone. During the pregame warmup, KU will sport a commemorative T-shirt to honor the 50-year evolution of women’s sports in the athletics department. These commemorative T-shirts will be worn throughout the year by all female Jayhawk student-athletes prior to each competition. In addition, several events are being scheduled and planned, including KU volleyball’s alumni reunion on Saturday, Sept. 9 before the Creighton match.

KU’s stellar 28-2 record at home the last two seasons will be put to the test with a home-opening week that will prove to be one of the most challenging weeks for any team in the nation this season. The Jayhawks’ four home nonconference matches include three nationally-ranked teams that advanced in the NCAA Tournament last season and two preseason favorites to win their respective conferences.

The week starts with a Labor Day matchup against No. 13 Kentucky on Monday, Sept. 4. It will be the second meeting between Kansas and Kentucky and the first since a neutral-site meeting in 1998. The Kansas Invitational kicks off with Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite Belmont on Friday, Sept. 8, followed by No. 21 Purdue later that night. The event concludes with a top-10 matchup between the ninth-ranked Jayhawks and No. 8 Creighton on Saturday night.




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