Playing for Scooter motivates No. 6 Kansas volleyball entering Sunflower Showdown

 MATCH 18 – Dillons Sunflower Showdown
 #6 KANSAS (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) vs.
 Kansas State (14-4, 3-2 Big 12)
Date Wednesday, Oct. 12
Time 6 p.m. Central
Location Lawrence, Kan.
Arena Horejsi Family Athletics Center
Video WatchESPN
Radio KJHK-FM 90.7
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
Twitter @KUVolleyball | #kuvball
Instagram @kuvolleyball | #kuvball
Facebook /KansasVolleyball
 Hitting % .238 .260
 Opp. Hitting % .138 .211
 Kills 13.2 14.4
 Assists 12.5 13.8
 Aces 1.6 1.3
 Digs 15.7 15.8
 Blocks 2.2 2.4

Notes Match Notes (.pdf)

As the sixth-ranked Jayhawks prepare to host the Dillons Sunflower Showdown on Wednesday night (6 p.m., ESPNU), Kansas head coach Ray Bechard penned this open letter:

It is seldom in life that you come across someone as inspirational as our academic counselor, Scott “Scooter” Ward.

He has faced so much adversity in his own life, but never do you hear him complain about his own circumstance. Rather than do that, he puts all of his energy into helping others and creating opportunities for the people around him to get better. He has done that for everyone involved in our volleyball program.

As we all became aware of Scooter’s (emergency open-heart surgery) situation last Friday and we spent time together processing that, it was clear how every team member felt about him – how important it is to all of us that he gets a full recovery and what a joy it will be when he returns.

Our team realizes how much he cares about them and how badly he wants them to succeed. He is there for them beyond the academic support level. He is willing to listen and impart words of wisdom. He cares about the individual. He has devoted his entire career to preparing young men and women for life.

It is very difficult to come up with a way to thank a person like that, other than be the best we can be in his absence right now. On his return, hopefully we can continue to be that way. We look forward to that day when he is back with us full-time and supporting us at the level he always has.

Our team will continue to move forward and we will honor his absence by being the type of people and team he would be proud of.

Ray Bechard

Kansas State leads the all-time series with Kansas, 61-42, but the Jayhawks have had the upper-hand of late. In the last eight matches Kansas holds a 7-1 record against the Wildcats, including a series sweep last season and a pair of wins over ranked K-State teams in 2012.

Kansas defeated Texas Tech on Saturday, led by 12 kills on a .526 hitting percentage from junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne and eight kills on 10 swings from junior middle blocker Kayla Cheadle in her first start during Big 12 play. Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon recorded six aces during a 13-0 Kansas run to end a 25-8 first-set victory. KU ended with 10 aces on the day. The Jayhawk defense held the Red Raiders to 21 kills and a .120 hitting percentage.

Kansas is on an 11-match home winning streak and is 28-1 in the last 29 matches inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

Kansas leads the Big 12 in four defensive categories – hitting percentage allowed (.138), kills allowed (11.03), assists allowed (10.35) and aces allowed (0.58). KU’s opponents have recorded a hitting percentage below .200 in 15 of 17 matches this season, including three with a negative hitting percentage (under .000). In the Jayhawks’ only two losses this season, their opponent has hit over .300.

When winning the first set, Kansas is 13-0 this season. But the Jayhawks have also shown resiliency after not starting strong during conference play. Kansas has lost the first set in three Big 12 matches but have come back to win two of them – against Baylor (Oct. 1) and at Iowa State (Oct. 5).

With a 47-15 record in sets this season, Kansas has the highest set winning percentage in the Big 12 (.758).

Kansas’ largest margin of victory in a set this season is 17 points, which has occurred twice with 25-8 wins over Texas Tech (Oct. 5) in the first set and Chicago State (Sept. 2) in the second set. The Jayhawks have double-figure margin of victories in 15 sets this season.

In the seven sets that have been decided in extra points, Kansas has a set record of 5-2. Three of KU’s extra-point sets have been in the first set (2-1).

KU’s 45 wins since the start of the 2015 season ranks tied for second in NCAA Division I volleyball during that period. The Jayhawks have the same number of wins as American and Washington since last season; Western Kentucky leads with 49.  

Kansas leads the Big 12 in aces per set (1.58) and features 10 matches with five or more aces. Individually, junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon leads the Big 12 and ranks fourth nationally with 37 aces. The Jayhawks are 14-0 this season when recording more aces than their opponent.

The Jayhawks also lead the Big 12 in aces allowed, limiting opponents to just 0.58 aces per set. In comparison, Rigdon alone averages 0.61 aces per set.

Senior libero Cassie Wait enters Wednesday with 1,685 career digs, which ranks second on KU’s career digs list. She now stands 368 digs away from all-time leader Brianne Riley (2010-13; 2,053). Wait and Riley played on the same team in 2013. On Sept. 23, 2015 against K-State, Wait became the third-fastest Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career digs (77 matches; 282 sets).

Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie enters Wednesday with 462 career blocks, ranking third on KU’s career blocks list. Soucie has recorded 100 blocks for three-consecutive seasons entering her senior campaign; the only Jayhawk to record four 100-block seasons was career blocks leader Caroline Jarmoc (2010-13; 555). Soucie, the 2015-16 Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year, trails second-place Amanda Reves (1996-99; 514) by 52 blocks.

Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili became the seventh Jayhawk to reach 3,000 career assists after registering 47 against Chattanooga (Sept. 9). She enters Wednesday with 3,356 career assists. The reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year already ranks second in career assists per set (11.49) in the KU record books.

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne is KU’s career leader in hitting percentage (.356) among attackers with at least 1,000 attempts. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year totals 893 kills and will soon become the 15th Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career kills.

Kansas remained at No. 6 in the AVCA Coaches Poll on Monday. The Jayhawks debuted the season with a No. 5 preseason ranking, spent three weeks at No. 4, and two weeks at No. 8. This is the second-straight week KU has been ranked No. 6.

The Jayhawks have been ranked in the top-25 for a program-record 22-consecutive times dating back to last season, including 18-consecutive times in the top-10. KU finished last season ranked No. 4 after advancing to the Final Four.

Kansas has been consecutively ranked in the top-10 for more than a calendar year. Last season on Oct. 5, 2015, KU made its program debut in the top-10 with a No. 10 ranking. The Jayhawks have stayed in the top-10 ever since.

KU’s only losses since the start of the 2015 season have come against top-15 teams.

Senior libero Cassie Wait leads the Big 12 in digs per set (5.05) and is the floor general for a KU defense which is holding opponents to a Big 12-best .138 hitting percentage. Wait earned back-to-back Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 5 and Sept. 12. The Gardner, Kansas native has reached 20 digs in eight matches, including three 20-dig performances in a three-set match. Wait set a Bluejay Invitational record of 33 digs during KU’s five-set victory over preseason-No. 18 Creighton (Sept. 8), marking her third career 30-dig performance. Wait ranks 25th nationally in digs per set.

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon is on pace for her most successful season as a Jayhawk. The Pflugerville, Texas native has garnered two nonconference tournament MVP honors (Bulldog Classic, Bluejay Invitational) and ranks fourth in the nation in aces per set (0.61). Rigdon has increased production across the board in kills, hitting accuracy, digs and service aces, comparted to last season’s All-Big 12 Second Team campaign.

With six aces against Texas Tech (Oct. 8), Rigdon set a KU record for aces in a three-set match during the rally scoring era, since 2001.  

Kansas has held opponents to single-digit points in a set 14 times since the 25-point rally scoring era began in 2008. Of those 14 sets, nine have come in the last two seasons. Most recently, the Jayhawks finished the first set against Texas Tech (Oct. 8) on a 13-0 run on the way to a 25-8 first-set victory. KU also held Chicago State to single-digit sets twice during KU’s home-opening sweep on Sept. 2 (25-12, 25-8, 25-9).

Kansas returned five starters from the squad that advanced all the way to the NCAA Championship semifinals in 2015. The two starting positions that needed to be replaced were outside hitter (Tiana Dockery) and middle blocker (Janae Hall). Redshirt freshman Patricia Montero has started 13 of 17 matches at outside hitter, while freshman Jada Burse has started in four of the last six. At middle blocker, freshman Zoe Hill has 12 starts and junior Kayla Cheadle has five starts.

Dockery was a four-year starter for the Jayhawks who averaged 2.4 kills per set and 1.7 digs per set in her career. Hall boasted a .328 career hitting percentage while contributing 1.7 kills per set and 0.8 blocks per set.

KU’s 10-0 start tied for the second-best start in program history, trailing only last season’s Final Four team which started 19-0. KU’s 2001 season also began 10-0. The four best starts in KU’s history have been under the tutelage of head coach Ray Bechard.

Kansas has won all three of its five-set matches this season. All three five-set tests have come in different settings – at home against Arkansas (Sept. 3), on the road at Creighton (Sept. 8), and at a neutral site against Xavier (Sept. 16). During last season’s unprecedented run to the Final Four, the Jayhawks played two five-set matches the entire season – a home loss against No. 5 Texas and a win the NCAA regional final against No. 1 USC. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.