Jayhawks set to host Kansas Invitational this weekend
The Kansas volleyball team (3-2) plays host to American University, Auburn and Loyola Marymount during the Kansas Invitational this weekend at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
The action for the Jayhawks begins Friday at noon against American (4-4), followed by a Friday evening match against Auburn (3-2) at 7 p.m. A rematch of the 2015 NCAA Tournament regional semifinal between Kansas and Loyola Marymount will close the event on Saturday at 1 p.m.
All six matches of the Kansas Invitational will be video streamed live on ESPN+, powered by the Jayhawk Television Network.
The Jayhawks’ three matches can be heard on the Jayhawk IMG Radio Network through KUAthletics.com/radio. KU’s student radio station, KJHK-FM 90.7, will broadcast KU’s pair of matches on Friday.
- Kansas has played three-straight five-set matches entering this weekend’s Kansas Invitational. Dating back to last season, six of KU’s last seven matches have lasted five sets.
- American University and Kansas meet for the second time in program history on Friday at noon. The teams first met on a neutral-site location in Philadelphia with KU winning in four sets on Sept. 13, 2014.
- Auburn leads the all-time series with Kansas, 2-1. The teams last met on Sept. 11, 1999 in Lawrence with Auburn taking a 3-1 decision. The Tigers will be the fifth SEC opponent Kansas has faced in the last eight matches.
- Kansas leads the all-time series with Loyola Marymount, 2-1. The last time the teams met, the Jayhawks edged the Lions, 3-1, in the 2015 NCAA Championship San Diego Regional Semifinals. KU would go on to defeat No. 1 USC the next day to advance to the Final Four.
- Kansas has a home-court winning rate of 84 percent since 2012 (72-14), but will be looking shake off an uncharacteristic three-match losing streak inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center entering Friday’s match against American.
- KU volleyball alums will be on hand during Saturday’s match against LMU for the K Club’s annual Alumni Day celebration. There will be a recognition of alums during the second and third sets of the match on Saturday.
LAST TIME OUT
- Kansas went 2-1 at the Bluegrass Battle — playing five sets with Dayton, College of Charleston and Kentucky.
- The Jayhawks rallied from 2-1 set deficits to earn deciding-set victories over both Dayton and College of Charleston, before succumbing to a two-set comeback at the hands of host No. 16 Kentucky.
- Ashley Smith and Jada Burse were named to the Bluegrass Battle All-Tournament Team. Smith totaled 48.5 points on the weekend with 46 kills and five blocks. Burse totaled 43.5 points with 39 kills and nine blocks.
ABOUT THE JAYHAWKS
- Junior outside hitter Ashley Smith leads Kansas in total points (73.5), averaging career-bests of 2.79 kills per set and 0.50 blocks per set this season.
- Junior middle blockers Zoe Hill (1.14 blocks per set) and Mmachi Nwoke (1.13) are team leaders in blocks. Hill adds 2.00 kills per set on a .311 hitting percentage as KU’s second-leading point scorer behind Smith. Nwoke is averaging a career-high 1.36 kills per set entering the weekend.
- Freshman Lacey Angello leads the Jayhawks with 4.08 digs per set and has started as the primary libero in three of five matches.
- Junior Allie Nelson averages 2.62 digs per set with two starts at libero this season. Last week in Kentucky, Nelson’s streak of consecutive matches in the starting lineup came to an end at 34 matches before the Kentucky match.
- Senior Gabby Simpson (3.93 assists per set), freshman Camryn Ennis (4.47) and sophomore Annika Carlson (5.33) have shared setting roles during the first five matches depending on the Jayhawks’ offensive set. Simpson has started all five matches this season, also totaling 31 kills and 16 blocks. Ennis made her collegiate debut during the Bluegrass Battle last week and already has two assist-dig double-doubles. Carlson was the starting setter for the first two matches of the season, including her first-career start at Arkansas (Aug. 24).
SETTING THE STAGE
- KU’s three returning starters from 2017 are Nelson, Hill and junior outside hitter Jada Burse. Last season, Nelson led KU in digs per set (4.36), Hill led the Jayhawks in blocks per set (0.98) and Burse was KU’s third-leading kills producer (2.48 kills per set).
- KU’s lone senior is the left-handed hitter/setter Gabby Simpson, a transfer who redshirted during her first season with KU in 2017. The Colorado Springs native was an All-Pac 12 honoree at Colorado in 2015 and 2016, and has eight career triple-doubles.
- Burse and Simpson are KU’s are 2018 Preseason All-Big 12 honorees.
- Montero and Smith are KU’s only fourth-year players on the 2018 roster. The duo redshirted during KU’s magical run to the Final Four in 2015.
- Kansas returns seven letter winners from the 2017 season, as well as 33 percent of its total points (653.5 returning / 1,330.0 lost), seven percent of its assists (103 / 1,451) and 67 percent of its digs (1,221 / 624).
- Included in KU’s production lost from the 2017 season are three AVCA All-Americans — four-year starting setter Ainise Havili, right-side hitter Kelsie Payne and outside hitter Madison Rigdon. All three are still playing volleyball. Payne with a professional team in Brazil (E.C. Pinheiros), while Havili and Rigdon are beach volleyball teammates as graduate transfers at Arizona.
- Last season, Kansas posted a 22-8 overall record and an 11-5 record during Big 12 play to earn a sixth-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks ended the 2017 season receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll, ending a stretch of 45-straight appearances in the top-25.
- KU has finished each of the last six seasons with at least a top-20 RPI ranking (No. 20 in 2017).
- The Jayhawks will play 10 matches against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams this season.
- The 2018 season is the 20th and final season of KU’s home court — Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The facility will be torn down and rebuilt as the new Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena after the season.
- For the third-consecutive season, season tickets for KU’s home matches at Horejsi Family Athletics Center are sold out.
- Kansas has played in front of 24-straight home sellout crowds entering the weekend.
- This is KU’s 43rd season of intercollegiate volleyball and 21st under head coach Ray Bechard. In his time with the Crimson and Blue, Bechard has compiled a 377-242 (.609) record and guided Kansas to all of its nine NCAA Tournament appearances. Bechard is the winningest coach in program history.
- Coach Bechard has a pair of first-year KU assistants in Billy Ebel and Maggie Bowen. Ebel is a nationally-respected coach and former men’s player at Ball State who comes to Lawrence after a five-year stint at Lipscomb. Bowen is a former setter at KU under Coach Bechard and last season was the Jayhawks’ director of volleyball operations.
Kansas head coach Ray Bechard
On the Kansas Invitational field …
“I don’t know that we have ever had a tournament where all four teams competing will have a chance to win it. A lot of times you have a tournament where there is some separation between the teams from a competitive standpoint, but this is close. You have American, who has a rich volleyball tradition. You have an Auburn program that has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for creating their brand. And Loyola Marymount, which has a team that is very experienced and very talented. All these teams that are involved this weekend not only feel like they can have a really good pre-conference run, they can be extremely competitive in their conference. All of them have realistic aspirations for the NCAA Tournament.”
On the state of the team …
“We are a little inconsistent right now. There are moments where we play pretty competitively and then we step back from that. The ability to play a little better, a little longer, and stretch those good moments so we can compete at a high level in order to beat good teams.”
On the impact of KU’s freshmen class — Rachel Langs, Camryn Ennis, Lacey Angello and Audri Suter …
“They have all had their moments. Rachel has come in in key situations. Camryn has extended her role to setting, attacking and primary passing. Lacey has created great opportunities for us with her ability to serve-receive and play good defense. Audri has served well in key moments. With some of the restrictions we have with our squad size, we are putting the responsibility on every Jayhawk to be ready to go and produce good volleyball plays in key moments.”
On KU’s offensive system …
“We will be in and out of systems offensively. We still think the one-setter system can be successful for us, but with our personnel there are times that a two-setter system takes advantage of our strengths we have will be advantageous. As we move through the rest of pre-conference, we will see a little of both and we’ll play to what we feel like gives us the best chance at that moment.”
Kansas travels to North Carolina to play its final away-from-home nonconference matches of the season at the Tussle in the Triad, Sept. 14-15. The ‘tussle’ includes matches at Elon on Friday, at UNC Greensboro on Saturday, and concludes against High Point on UNCG’s campus on Saturday afternoon.
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