QUOTES: Volleyball at KU’s Fall Sports Media Day
RAY BECHARD: Thanks, everybody, for coming out. It’s a good turnout. The energy, the enthusiasm, the teammate ability in the gym has been at an extremely high level, so we’re pleased with that. We’re excited to get these two young ladies back after a redshirting last year. That will be a big part of what we’re doing. Obviously we’ve got a lot of inexperienced people that are going to step into roles this year and do really good things, but we’re excited for them to do that. The newcomers have done a really good job getting up to speed, and a lot of it has to do with the leadership here to my left and how they’ve allowed that and enabled that to happen.
After our year in 2015, we had a little trouble scheduling in 2016 and ’17. Well, guess what, everybody wanted to play us this fall when our roster turned over a little bit, and we might have gotten a little bit more aggressive with our scheduling than we should have, but we’re going to have a really competitive pre-conference scheduling, and then the Big 12 will be what it is.
Again, it’s one of the best conferences in the country. We’re excited about our last year in the current Horejsi Family Athletic Center and sending it out the right way. I’ll let you guys ask any questions.
Q. Patricia, coming off an injury, you had this whole year to kind of watch and prepare and heal up; what’s your mindset heading into this season?
PATRICIA MONTERO: I think I’m just taking it day by day. You don’t know what to expect each day, so I’m just putting it all in, relying on my teammates every day, and just focusing on what’s better for the team every day.
Q. Gabby, what was the last year like for you? How hard was it kind of sitting out and waiting your turn?
GABBY SIMPSON: It was pretty hard, but it was also, a really good learning experience because I got to see the game from a different perspective and learn a little bit more about the game than you would learn playing. It also gave me the chance to take a step back and look at my teammate ability to be a better teammate off the court.
Q. What did you learn from Kelsie (Payne) and Madison (Rigdon)?
PATRICIA MONTERO: I love them both, by the way. From Kelsie, I would just say being really competitive in high-stress situations. You know, she was our go-to hitter, and she was put in tough spots, and she always embraced it. For Mad Dog (Madison Rigdon), being a six-rotation player, she was always consistent, she always brought it, like consistency in practice all year long. Being a student-athlete, that’s kind of hard to do, like you’re stressed, you have school, you have everything, and she was always just great and consistent throughout the year. I want to be like her.
GABBY SIMPSON: I think the same thing. I respect Kelsie and her competitiveness and Mad Dog’s — Madison Rigdon’s consistency because that’s something as a player everyone wants to be.
Q. Is there anything you learned about the team as a whole by not playing last year?
PATRICIA MONTERO: Definitely the energy that you have to bring every day. She was always very positive, upbeat, and when you’re deep in season, you’re tired, and as you know, everyone else in the country is going through the same thing. From her like I learned to bring energy every day, and that’s going to like — that’s what’s going to make you a great team in December.
GABBY SIMPSON: Yeah, I think she also took the time to know each and every person. I only got to work with her for a semester, so I think it was cool that I got to see how she just really tried hard to get close with each player.
Q. Coach talked about the difficulty of your pre-conference schedule this season and how you might have bitten off maybe a little bit more than you can chew. Is that like a motivating factor for you to kind of step up after losing so many key pieces?
PATRICIA MONTERO: Definitely. I think everyone on the team right now is accepting change and embracing it, and I feel like having a tough schedule is just going to make us better.
GABBY SIMPSON: Yeah, I agree.
Q. What have you seen out of Camryn (Ennis), and how can she impact the team immediately?
PATRICIA MONTERO: She is a very skilled player all around, and she’s definitely going to give it a run for us. But she’s so great. She has worked hard all spring. She came in the spring, for those who don’t know. And she’s definitely going to be a key part of the team, I think.
GABBY SIMPSON: Yeah, I think she’s pretty competitive, and especially being the same position, I know that having someone else there to kind of drive me to play better is nice to have.
Q. Building off of that, can you just talk a little bit about all the freshmen coming in and kind of how they’ve impacted the team?
PATRICIA MONTERO: Okay, going off a list, I’m going to mention Kailea Carrier. She is a really good teammate. She’s always involved in practice, so shout-out to Kailea. Rachel (Langs) — nicest person I’ve ever met. She’s actually really amazing. Coming out of high school, it’s really impressive to see. She’s bringing up wides — the wide-run play that is in our system. I believe was kind of missing last year, so I think she’s going to be good. Great blocker, too. Lacey Angello has a great, great voice on the court. She’s very present. I love playing with her. She’s very consistent every day. Camryn (Ennis), we already talked about her — an all-around, very well-skilled player. She’s going to be really good. Audri (Suter), wow, surfacey (passing platform), amazing. Every day in practice, it doesn’t matter. Maybe miss a ball, like the next three are perfect. She brings it every day. That’s it.
GABBY SIMPSON: Yeah, I think each of the freshmen bring something different to this team. I think Rachel (Langs) is a big presence, which that’s nice for me because blocking together makes my job a little bit easier just because she’s right next to me. She’s also a pretty good hitter, too. Kailea (Carrier) — great teammate. Lacey (Angello), very scrappy, hard worker. Same with Audri (Suter). I didn’t really know what to expect of Audri coming in because I didn’t really know her before, but she’s definitely shown to be a great player. And then Camryn (Ennis), we already discussed Cam.
Q. Obviously you both wanted to be out there last year. What are some of the advantages to maybe seeing the game from a different point of view?
PATRICIA MONTERO: I think it’s a learning experience to see high-level players like Kelsie (Payne), Madison (Rigdon), Ainise (Havili) from the sidelines and kind of learn from what they’re doing great and learn from what they’re doing wrong, being like the sideline eyes for them. I think we — at least I did it freshmen year, I did it last year, too, and it kind of gave me an opportunity to just learn the game from a different perspective, and I think that’s going to be an advantage for me kind of this year.
GABBY SIMPSON: I think it’s especially helpful like watching your same position, especially having me say as a center to learn her tendencies and stuff like that. That was pretty neat for me to see an All-American and kind of follow in her footsteps a little bit.
PATRICIA MONTERO: I’d also like to add that being out helps you embrace the other part of the sport that doesn’t involve playing, like being a good teammate, high communication, just valuing different stuff that you would — that you can add to the team and add to just what needs to be done to win games.
Q. Patricia, you won a Big 12 Championship with both Maggie (Anderson) Bowen and Tori Miller on your team. What has it been like having them on staff with the program now?
PATRICIA MONTERO: I mean, at first I thought it was going to be weird because I was with them two years, but it’s been amazing. Maggie was a high-impact teammate when she was on the team. She was our voice. She was our leader, and having her as a coach now and having that trust in her and being able to talk to her and just having her kind of like bring that same energy level she had as a player but as a coach, I think it’s a really great asset for the team.
And then Tori, having her as the director of ops, I know it’s amazing for her. It’s been a great opportunity. I mean, we only had her for two weeks, but I think it’s good because she’s been in our shoes, so she understands like the pressures of being a student-athlete, so I think that helps her help us, and I think it’s a great fit.
Q. Your team received votes in the AVCA preseason poll. What’s that say?
RAY BECHARD: Yeah, I think we’re going to do business as usual. Like I said, we’ve got some kids that have been in the program that played extensively over the last four years, and we’ve got people ready to step in and do that. We hope to continue a lot of momentum we’ve had the last few years, in that we think we should compete for a Big 12 title, compete and train to be in the NCAA Tournament, and try to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Q. You haven’t had to worry about the setter position for a while. How is that unit?
RAY BECHARD: We were talking about in the head coaches’ meeting today all the things we’re doing for the student athletes and wellness and stuff, and I said, hey, the head coach needs a little bit of that, too, right now. It really was obviously a high level for four years, and that’s through the spring and this fall. We’ve got three candidates. Gabby (Simpson) can hit and set. Annika Carlson has done a great job for us as a setter only, and then Camryn is kind of a hybrid, too, whether she can hit and set it a little bit.
So you’ll see a little one-setter system, maybe a little two-setter system, and the styles will be different, but we feel like we still have high-end attackers for options. But you know, like you say, four years of somebody setting every ball, there is going to be a transition there. But this group will be able to manage that.
Q. How have you seen Annika Carlson improve over the summer?
RAY BECHARD: She needed to run. The spring was good for her. She got to run the offense, and Gabby was involved with that, too. But she — and she got to spend a year with Ainise, which was really good. But she’s been solid during two-a-days. She needs to think through the match-up situations and game-time situations. The last couple days we tried to put her in a bunch of those situations where she can kind of learn on the fly. But Saturday, if we give her the exhibition Saturday, it’ll be really good for her to get a sense for what the game-like feel is about.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Audri Suter and how she joined your team, what she’s brought to your program so far?
RAY BECHARD: Yeah, Audri was a late addition, and I just got a random email from somebody who said, you remember me, we went to the same high school, and his daughter was really late to the recruiting game and with our numbers like they were, and the fact that Kailea (Carrier) is going to redshirt this year, we had the ability to get Audri here in July and she has gotten up to speed really quick. She’ll create some opportunities with her serve and pass. She has a good range on her dig ability, too. What we call our libero situation — Allie (Nelson), Lacey (Angello), Jacqui (Mostrom) — all three are pushing, so we’ve got a wide open libero competition going on right now, which is interesting.
Q. What have been your early impressions of Jeff Long?
RAY BECHARD: We had our first head coaches’ meeting today. He was fired up. I had a couple other opportunities to visit with him. Every coach that has had him as a boss speaks extremely highly of him. The Arkansas coaches loved him. I get a chance to meet with him in a one-on-one next week, but he’s all-in and ready to go. His three C’s are compete, compete, compete. That’s what we’re going to do on the volleyball floor, off the floor, and how we represent ourselves in the community, so we’re excited about that.
Q. You said when we talked to him on his first day, you guys had a brief conversation, and the fact you guys are opening the season with Arkansas came up. Did he have a message for you about that?
RAY BECHARD: Yeah, you’d better win the match is what he said. So no pressure there. It was a great schedule on my part, not only play them once, we play them twice. But it’s a good rival for us, a Power Five school that won 20 matches last year, and they’ve got everybody back with the exception of one kid, so that’ll be a great opener for us.
Q. As dominant as you guys have been, is this a rebuilding year?
RAY BECHARD: Well, you know, it’s going to be different in that there’s so much different personnel out there. When Patricia and Gabby talked about, hey, we could go to (Kelsie) Payne and get good kills, (Madison) Rigdon was a consistent six-rotation player. People got to fill that void. (Ainise) Havili’s void is big, too, but we feel like we’ve got players that are ready to step in.
We’ve got two really quality middles that returned and played a majority of the time last year in Mmachi (Nwoke) and Zoe (Hill). Jada Burse could be an All-Big 12 type player, and then these two kids that were up here can play at a high level. Ashley Smith is ready to break out.
They did a great job. Obviously the summer they did a great job because they came back in great shape, and according to them, they got a ton of open gym time. They’re excited about it.
I think the target might be off their back now. Last couple years I think some of our players wore that a little bit heavier than others, but I think this is a year for this group to kind of set their own tone and make their own path.
Q. Since December has your former assistant coach Bird (Laura Kuhn) ever reached out to you after taking over at Texas A&M?
RAY BECHARD: Yeah, we talk all the time — Todd (Chamberlain) and Wendell (Carmego), too. This volleyball community is very unique in that we see our stories, we see them out on the road recruiting, and we’ll spend time talking as much as we can. During two-a-days that slows down a little bit. Everybody is so busy.
That’s the other thing I want to mention, our new staff. Billy Ebel has been just a total rock star in what he has brought to the program in his six months here. He’s got an amazing future, cares so much about the kids and what’s going on. He’s a volleyball junkie. Went to Bishop Miege High School, so he had a built-in love for University of Kansas before he got here. And then to get Maggie (Bowen) on our staff, somebody that’s already lived the culture that we want and expressed it and loves Kansas volleyball as much as anybody has been huge. We’ve had a great transition in that regard and a great start to two-a-days with the energy that they’ve brought and the willingness they’ve brought to really get to know the players and get us functioning the best we can.
Q. Building off that, how do you prepare Maggie for this role as an assistant coach?
RAY BECHARD: I told her, just be yourself, because you made everybody around you better when you were a teammate, now you can make people better — make people around you better as a coach just because of the way she does business. She’s all in all the time. She’s not going to have an off day from her effort level and how her attitude is and the energy she’s going to give, and as somebody that spent five years in our program, started out as a walk-on with not much of a chance, and has turned out to be somebody as valuable as anybody we’ve had as far as what culture looks like, what hard work looks like, and what a great teammate looks like.
Q. What have you seen from Mmachi Nwoke during the preseason?
RAY BECHARD: Mmachi has been really good. I think I told her after the first couple days, I think you’re the MVP so far. She came back very fit, very determined. Zoe (Hill) and Mmachi, you add Rachel Langs, who will play, I think our middle situation is in really good hands.
Q. Kind of a rotation with Rachel Langs, Mmachi Nwoke and Zoe Hill is what you’re saying?
RAY BECHARD: Yeah, we’ll give all three of them a run out there in the exhibition. We’ve been rotating them in practice, so they’ll all three play. They’ll all do different things and create different opportunities for us.