RCW: Sport Spotlight 4.7 (Volleyball)
— Kansas Volleyball (@KUVolleyball) October 9, 2017
A post shared by Kansas Volleyball (@kuvolleyball) on Oct 3, 2017 at 1:04pm PDT
During conference play, Kansas has seen a steady improvement in the offensive production from its middle blocker position. The improvement was highlighted by sophomore Zoe Hill earning her first-career Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week nod after a stellar week seven of the regular season.
Even with the consistent success of two All-American pin hitters (Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon) and an All-American setter (Ainise Havili), Kansas head coach Ray Bechard knows the significance of the middles as the ninth-ranked Jayhawks pursue another Big 12 title and a deep tournament run.
“Getting our middle offense going early can open up so many more options for us as a team,” Bechard said after the Oklahoma victory on Saturday. “I don’t know how often you get 21 kills and no errors out of your middles, but I love it. When we have a good middle offense, are low-error and our blocking is on-point, we are a hard team to beat.”
KU’s middle blockers include seniors Kayla Cheadle and Taylor Alexander, and sophomores Hill and Mmachi Nwoke. All four have starting experience this season.
During nonconference play, the group combined for 3.33 kills per set on a .296 hitting percentage. Those numbers have improved in the first five conference matches with 3.76 kills per set on a .448 hitting percentage.
Hill leads the Big 12 in hitting percentage (.516) during Big 12 play and is coming off a career week in which she recorded a league-leading .708 hitting percentage during KU’s pair of road wins at West Virginia and Oklahoma. The Houston native did not record a single attacking error during KU’s pair of road wins, totaling 17 kills on 24 swings.
Standing the tallest in the group at 6-foot-4, Alexander has led KU’s middle blocker unit in blocks per set (1.00) this season. The graduate transfer from Ole Miss has started 13 matches in her first and only season with the Jayhawks.
Cheadle, the only KU middle remaining from the 2015 Final Four team, has played in 61 matches with 38 starts during her four-year career as a Jayhawk, averaging 0.85 blocks per set and 1.32 kills per set.
Nwoke provided a late spark for Kansas in a four-set road victory at West Virginia (Oct. 4) and made her first-career start at Oklahoma (Oct. 9). Nwoke, a sophomore transfer from Arizona State, recorded a .696 hitting percentage during week seven of the season. Prior to the West Virginia match, Nwoke had played in just three sets all season for the Jayhawks with three kills and two blocks.
KU will rely on good play from the middle blocker position on Wednesday night (8 p.m., ESPNU) against No. 5 Texas as the Longhorns lead the nation blocks per set (3.44) and rank sixth in hitting percentage (.310).