Q&A: Spring volleyball recap with Coach Bechard
LAWRENCE, Kan. — As Kansas volleyball turns the page to a new era and says goodbye to a group of seven graduating seniors who helped transform KU into a national powerhouse, the attention turns to maintaining a level of elite success with a youthful roster that will feature just one senior for the upcoming 2018 season.
KU’s incoming class of four freshmen — ranked No. 23 in the nation by PrepVolleyball — will add to a group of experienced returners, including 2017 All-Big 12 Second Team honorees Jada Burse and Zoe Hill. KU’s lone senior next season is hitter/setter Gabby Simpson, who walked the hill last week and will be pursuing a graduate degree during the 2018 season.
KUAthletics.com sat down with Ray Bechard, who enters his 21st season as head coach of the Jayhawks this fall, to get the scoop on how spring workouts went.
What were you most impressed with this spring?
Ray Bechard: The way we finished. We had some opportunities to compete where we weren’t at our best, but we were still trying to figure out what we were going to be. I thought the last two or three weeks of our training in the spring really embraced the opportunities to get better throughout the offseason training. Sometimes you see teams fade looking towards the summer, but I thought our group kept at it very diligently. They felt pretty good about where we ended and the momentum we had. Hopefully, that will carry over into their ability to get together this summer and do the things they need to do to be successful this fall. With the large class of seniors we had there was an opportunity for a lot of people to create new roles and new opportunities for themselves this spring.
Outlook on setters …
Bechard: One of the big questions moving into the spring was, ‘how are we going to settle into the setting position with a four-time All-American (Ainise Havili) departing?’ I think we might be looking at a two-setter system at times, which would be a little different for us. With Gabby (Simpson), Camryn (Ennis) and Annika (Carlson)’s versatility, certainly I think that will create some good opportunities for all three of those players to get a little more comfortable.
Gabby, coming off last fall when the decision was made to redshirt her for a lot of different factors. At the end of spring, she was the healthiest she has been since arriving last summer and was playing at a very high level. That was exciting to see.
It was good to have Camryn here a semester early. That was very valuable for her. She got some work at the setter position, a little at the outside hitter position. For her to get here early was certainly a big plus for her development in our system.
Outlook on pin hitters …
Bechard: Ashley (Smith) and Jada (Burse) have pretty much been three-rotation players up to this point in their careers. But this spring we gave them both opportunities to play six rotations and get experience with some back-row defense and back-row attacking so that can be a part of who we are as a possibility next fall. I thought that was really good for them.
With Patricia (Montero) already having a lot of experience as a six-rotation player, I think there will be a lot more opportunities volume-wise with All-Americans Madison (Rigdon) and Kelsie (Payne) not out there. That materialized very well towards the end of spring. Jada, Ashley and Patricia — all three will have to comfortable taking high-volume swings during matches next fall. I think they are prepared to do that.
Outlook on middles …
Bechard: Zoe and Mmachi (Nwoke), being our only two middles this spring, could really focus on what it is we need them to do. I thought it was really good for both of them to create what their identity is going to be next fall. We look forward to adding incoming freshmen Rachel Langs and Kailea Carrier to the mix of middles this fall, but we were very pleased to see the development and both Zoe and Mmachi this spring.
Outlook on defensive specialists …
Bechard: BothAllie (Nelson) and Jacqui (Mostrom) I was really happy with. Allie continues to grow and get more comfortable in being the type of libero we need and Jacqui really impressed us towards the end of spring. Jacqui had a lot of growth in a lot of different areas that will allow her to play a solid role this fall.
This season we will have Lacey (Angello) coming in with Jacqui and Allie returning — those three will be pretty competitive. There will be a way we can utilize all three of those littles in some fashion throughout the fall season.
On having two new assistant coaches — Kelly Files and Billy Ebel — in the gym …
Bechard: Our overall staff philosophy was pretty congruent from day one.Kelly and Billy both brought different perspectives from where they come from. Through a lot of discussions we were able to have, I think they got a sense of how I like to do business, but at the same time that created a lot of open discussion about different ways to get to where we want to go. Part of the attraction of both coaches is that they came from good, solid backgrounds and would bring fresh ideas and create some new dialog. Sometimes when you’re saying the same thing, but it’s presented with a different perspective or angle or different voice, I think that gives an opportunity for our team to grow and get better.
On team leadership …
Bechard: We will challenge everybody to try and be part of that process. We had different people step-up at different times this spring and I think they got a sense of how we all need to be part of that process and part of that movement if we want to be the type of team we hope to be this fall — competing at the highest level.
New facility update …
Bechard: The plans for the new facility are full-speed ahead. There has been a lot of people working on creating the best student-athlete experience and spectator environment that we can have. My hope and everybody’s hope is that as soon as the 2018 season is over that they will get started and hopefully get it turned around in time enough to open the 2019 season in the new Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.
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