Bechard previews No. 5 Kansas at Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard met with members of the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the fifth-ranked Jayhawks’ upcoming season.
The reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year touched on topics ranging from returning starters, newcomers, position shifts, and his thoughts on KU’s opponents.
Currently in their second week of preseason training camp, Kansas has its first public tune-up on Saturday with the Crimson & Blue Scrimmage. First serve is set for 1 p.m. at Horejsi Family Athletics Center. Season tickets are already sold out, but admission is free to Saturday’s event.
Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard
“We started last Tuesday. I think physically, emotionally, mentally, we’ve got as much work done as probably any two-a-day training camp that we’ve ever had. We are pleased about where we are at, all the work we have done, and what our mission is. Obviously, we’re coming off a little momentum from the last three or four years. We’ve got kids back that are excited.”
On returning starters:
“Any time you bring back five starters like we bring back; Ainise Havili, our setter who runs the show; Kelsie Payne, who can take over a match with her attacking and blocking; Tayler Soucie, a four-year starter in the middle, three-time All-Big 12 player; Madison Rigdon, who is as consistent day in and day out as any player we have. Then you bring back maybe what we feel like is one of the better liberos playing at the collegiate level in Cassie Wait.
“That’s a good place to start, but I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Maggie Anderson, a fifth-year senior who’s got a chance. I know we talked about (Tiana) Dockery’s four NCAA Tournaments in a row, well now Maggie has a chance to be on teams that have been to five-straight NCAA tournaments. She doesn’t get the attention or notoriety that some of the other kids get, but you talk about a kid that sets the tone each and every day. She’s the type of teammate we want in the gym, the type of communicator we want in the gym, and somebody that lovers her teammates, her athletic department, being a member of the volleyball team. That’s Maggie Anderson.”
On the senior class:
“I’ve never been around a senior group that represents the culture that we want, what it means to be a Jayhawk and has meant more to the program from the type of teammates, the type of people they are than Cassie Wait, Tayler Soucie and Maggie Anderson. We are excited to have those three back for one more go-around.”
On the departing letterwinners and newcomers:
There are good pieces back, but when you lose a Janae Hall, Tiana Dockery, there are holes to fill too. Tiana was a six-rotation player, meaning that she played all around and she did all the skills. She served, passed, dug, attacked, blocked, and right now we’ve got choices there. We’ve got Ashley Smith, a redshirt freshman, Patricia Montero, a redshirt freshman and we’ve got Jada Burse, a freshman from DeSoto, Texas, but none of those three have ever played a collegiate volleyball match. They are very capable so we’re excited about seeing how that competition plays out.
“In Janae Hall you had a very consistent middle that was a little overlooked for what she did for our team. We have a couple pretty good options there. Zoe Hill, a freshman from Houston who’s been really, really good starting out during two-a-days. Kayla Cheadle, a junior, who, as a freshman, played a lot, started and since then hasn’t had a starting role, but has a chance to have a really good junior season.
On defensive specialists:
“We have got some little people in the gym. We call them our ‘littles’ who we’re really, really excited about. Tori Miller and Addie (Addison) Barry have done some really, really good things for us. I think they’ll make the libero competition interesting, but it’s going to take a special person to displace Cassie Wait. Two freshmen, Jacqui Mostrom and Allie Nelson, we’re very excited about those two.
“From a defensive specialist standpoint, those are the people that come in and play the back three rotations, we feel like that’s one of the strengths of our team. If there’s any question marks right now, it’s who’s going to fill a middle spot, an outside hitting spot and we’re going to give everyone an opportunity as we train into next week as we get ready to go.
On the nonconference schedule:
“We are excited about the pre-conference schedule. We go to Mississippi State. I see that they scheduled us for their first match, I’m sure it’s going to be a lively atmosphere there. Coach (David) McFatrich is into his second year has done a great job. I know they’ll take a big jump in what they’re doing.
“Back home, we get Maryland from the Big Ten and Arkansas from the SEC. A second-year coach at Maryland (Steve Aird) who’s doing a great job and a first-year coach at Arkansas (Jason Watson). Teams always take a nice bump in how they compete and the energy in the program when a new coach comes in. That’ll be a great opportunity.
“One of the best teams we’ll play all year will be our match at Creighton. They were a Sweet 16 team last year, and they have everybody back. Kirsten (Bernthal Booth) has done a great job up there and they’re going to be really, really good.
“Then we see Northern Iowa here at home on that Saturday (Sept. 10), it’s kind of an interesting setup for a tournament, but they were an NCAA (tournament) team last year, have everybody back and we’re excited about that.
“Then onto Purdue from the Big Ten. Perennial power in Purdue. Xavier, who we will play in West Lafayette, is a very good team as well.
“It’s interesting how people now view your program after you have a breakout year like we did last year. I was recruiting in Indianapolis, I think it was day four of a five day recruiting effort where there are 100 courts setup, there are 100 whistles going on from eight in the morning to six at night and you’re kind of in this recruiting coma, as you call it. I’m approached by these two coaches and they introduce themselves, ‘Hey we’re from Southeast Louisiana, our team can’t wait to play you guys.’ When you’ve got a target on your back or a hierarchy opportunity for other people, we need to understand that each and every team we play will view their match with Kansas as something significant. We’ll embrace that and create an opportunity for our team to feel the same way.”
On the Big 12 Conference schedule:
“We get to a Big 12 Conference slate and coaches always say, ‘Oh it’s the best it’s ever going to be,’ but we’ve never had so many good upperclassmen in our league that we have this year. Texas, who is the preseason No. 2; K-State has a bunch of seniors; Oklahoma will bounce back from the disappointing year they had and I think they can be a top-20 team. Iowa State is full of seniors; TCU made the NCAA tournament last year and has everybody back plus transfers coming in. It goes on and on.
“Our league has a chance to be very, very nationally prominent this year, more so than past years. Obviously, we want to be a big part of that.”
On the outlook for the season:
“We’re excited about what lies ahead and we are working hard toward the best version of the team we can be. We’re going to get going 1 p.m., Saturday with an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday and we hope we can get a lot of people in the gym to see this year’s version of the Jayhawks.”
On if any rotation players have changed positions from last season:
“(Kelsie) Payne is a work in progress. Payne has a chance to be a special player. She’s been a three rotation player, meaning she plays across the front. She’s not quite ready for the duties of a back row player, which entails a little bit more defense, a little bit more ball handling. This spring and into two-a-days so far, we try to keep her in the match because she gives us an opportunity to attack from the back row and that’s a big part of who we want to be.
“(Madison) Rigdon is a six-rotation player; Patricia Montero is already there, but she doesn’t have the physical presence of a Jada Burse or an Ashley Smith. We’re giving everyone that opportunity, that’s going to be key. One of our strengths last year was out ability to first contact the ball or pass the ball to our setter so we could be in system.
“So if you hear this Olympic jargon they’re talking about, ‘USA was in system’, that means the setter received a good first pass and now has all options available offensively – that’s what ‘in system’ means.
“We were in system more last year than we’ve ever been in years past. We’ve got to figure out a way to make that happen. Our goal will be that all those pins are capable of being six-rotation players.”
On the team’s offseason serving work:
“We’re going to up to Omaha and put 18,000 people in red shirts and have them scream at us and then we’re going to serve. Maggie and Cassie, who don’t miss, missed four serves in the first set. It was just a little bit of a new environment.
“We’re just going to continue to be aggressive and we’ll frustrate our fans a little bit, but we’ll also take the other team out of system. Meaning, try to push their setter off the net. We’ve done a ton of competitive service drills each and every day in practice that we hope will have some transition into what we’re trying to do season wise. It’s a focus, the first contact, us serving or us passing, will always be something we’ll try to manage against each and every opponent we play.
“It’s interesting that everyone thinks of Nebraska as a physical, dynamic big team that can kind of push you out of the net, but they were a high level pass and serve team first and foremost. That’s what makes a championship team are those two skills.”
On the team’s mantra for this season:
“There’s a book called “Grit” and I think if you ask our players, they would say over the last week or so they’ve tried to define what that is with the way we work. We’ve had each individual, we’re not through the whole team yet, but each individual has given the team a response as to what that is to them. That’s when passion and perseverance come together for us and that’s the only way we can play. Those two things have to collide every time we play, every time we compete. I think that, as much as anything, deals with what we’re trying to get done during two-a-days.”
On any returning players switching positions this year after Kelsie Payne’s successful move last year:
“Payne went from middle to right side and was a First Team All-American and invited to train with the Pan-American Cup team this summer. I think for what our team needed, that was the best move and obviously it played pretty good dividends to her individually. We’ll move her around some more. You might see her attack a little bit out of the back row if she becomes a six-rotation player. She’s versatile in that regard.
“I do think you can see Rigdon, Burse, Montero and Smith maybe on the left, maybe on the right. We’re trying to have a few more options that way. I don’t think there are any other major changes like what Payne went through last year.”
On who he thinks will step up this year:
“Maggie Anderson. Soucie is as good of a role model as there is and Cassie Wait. Those three kids, those upperclassmen. We’ve got a big junior, upperclassmen type too. If you want to model somebody who’s consistent in how they compete every day, Rigdon would be that.
“We think that’s a shared responsibility, but out newcomers have a lot of opportunities to model after upperclassmen who are doing the right things.”
On the momentum carrying over from the Final Four last season to preseason practice so far:
“The question that we get is, ‘How are you going to take it to the next level? How are you going to do better than you did last year?’ Well, it’s hard. (An overall record of) 30-3 is pretty good, with the three losses to two teams playing for the national championship. I think that the expectations that players might feel sometimes come from within.
“We’re going to fall back on our training. We’re going to have our players prepared. We’re going to put them in situations in practice each and every day that create opportunity for them when they play matches.
“The expectations that they set on themselves, they hear from others. We can control that some and some of that they’re just going to have to manage themselves.
I do think we need to understand that each and every time we play it’s an opportunity for the opponent, but it’s also an opportunity for us.
“At the end of the day, when the season’s over — all this preseason stuff is great — but at the end of the day if we get to the closest we can to the best version of ourselves, I think we’ve had a great year.”
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