Jayhawk Insider: All about that defense
The Jayhawks are in the midst of their longest winning streak of the season, increasing that total to seven games after big wins against conference opponents West Virginia (Oct. 3) and No. 23 Baylor (Oct. 6) last week. One of the main reasons behind Kansas’ recent success has been their emphasis on the defensive side of the net.
“We started doing what we do, blocking balls,” head coach Ray Bechard said following the West Virginia win. “Anytime you can out dig and out block (your opponent), you have a chance.”
Kansas’ blocking defense is the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in the nation. Over the team’s last seven games, the Jayhawks have tallied 104 blocks. Meanwhile, their opponents have only put together a total of 62.5 blocks combined. The 41.5 difference is a key number to look at when determining how this Jayhawks squad has been able to get on a hot streak. In addition, KU ranks fifth nationally in blocks per set (2.98), ninth in total blocks (191.0) and 34th in opponent hitting percentage (.163) – all three rank first in the Big 12.
“When our blocking defense is organized, that is when I feel we play at our best,” junior libero Allie Nelson said. “That is our strongest part to our game.”
The team has seven players with double-digit blocks over this stretch, including three with at least 40. Some of the biggest game changers, however, have been the middle blockers up front. Junior Zoe Hill and freshman Rachel Langs have been impact performers over the last three weeks, and it has shown in the win column and on the stat sheet.
“I think just being really locked in on our defense, it is the strongest part of our game,” Hill said about the team’s win streak following their come-from-behind victory against the Mountaineers (Oct. 3). “Defense is our comfort zone and it’s that part of our game that we can rely on to win a game, and I am just happy to be a part of it.”
Over these seven games, Hill and Langs are tied for the team lead in blocks with 43 apiece. Hill’s 1.61 blocks per set during league play ranks her second in the Big 12 Conference. During the team’s two games last week Hill raked in 17 blocks, including 11 in the come-from-behind victory over the Mountaineers. Those efforts on the court helped her receive her second Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week award (Oct. 8) in three weeks.
“Earning this award on its own is an honor, but being able to help keep it on our team the past three weeks is something to be even more proud of,” Hill explained. “I think our team’s success has a lot to do with how aggressive and organized our defense is. My teammates are my drive and motivation to get the job done at the net. I know if I’m doing my job, it makes everyone else’s job on the court easier.”
Langs was the other Jayhawk to receive the award over the three-week span, and that came after she put together one of the greatest defensive efforts in Jayhawk history. She finished with a record-breaking 14 blocks against Oklahoma (Sept. 26) in a five-set victory on the road in Norman.
“Our coaching staff did a really great job of putting together a scouting report to help us prepare and gave great feedback throughout the game,” Langs said of her performance against the Sooners. “There was constant communication on the court and it was easy to execute the game plan at the net knowing that our defense had our backs behind the block.”
The team cannot let up their defensive intensity as they are hitting the heart of league play. With 12 contests remaining on the schedule, and four games against Texas and Texas Tech alone (who are a combined 25-7 on the season thus far), Kansas has to continue to show why it is one of the toughest defensive teams in the nation.
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