No. 4 Kansas returns to Omaha, hosts Northern Iowa Saturday

Location Omaha, Neb.
Arena D.J. Sokol Arena
 #4 KANSAS at Creighton
Date Thursday, Sept. 7
Time 7 p.m. Central
Video Jays Video
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
 #4 KANSAS vs. Chattanooga
Date Friday, Sept. 8
Time 3:30 p.m. Central
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
 #4 KANSAS vs. Northern Iowa
Date Saturday, Sept. 9
Location Lawrence, Kan.
Arena Horejsi Family Athletics Center
Time 6 p.m. Central
Video ESPN3
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
Twitter @KUVolleyball | #kuvball
Instagram @kuvolleyball | #kuvball
Facebook /KansasVolleyball | #kuvball

Notes Game Notes (.pdf)

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Three days. Three opponents. Two locations.

This week, fourth-ranked Kansas returns to the city where its unprecedented 2015 season came to an end. For the first time since advancing to the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship semifinals, the Jayhawks will once again compete in Omaha on Thursday and Friday.

Following a pair of matches in Omaha, the Jayhawks return to Lawrence for a Saturday night home match in the friendly confines of Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

KU faces Creighton on Thursday (7 p.m.) and Chattanooga on Friday (3:30 p.m.) in the Bluejay Invitational before returning to Lawrence for a Saturday date with Northern Iowa (6 p.m., JTV/ESPN3).

Kansas enters this week with a 21-match winning streak against nonconference opponents during the regular season. That stretch includes seven-straight nonconference tournament titles. The regular-season nonconference winning streak began on Sept. 19, 2014 with a straight-set win over North Texas in the Jayhawk Classic.

The Jayhawks have gone undefeated through the nonconference portion of the regular season four times (2000, 2002, 2004, 2015) under head coach Ray Bechard. KU is 175-29 (.858) against nonconference teams during the regular season under Bechard.

2014 – Jayhawk Classic (Cassie Wait)
2015 – Arkansas Invitational (Ainise Havili)
2015 – Kansas Invitational (Cassie Wait)
2015 – Pistol Pete’s Showdown (Madison Rigdon)
2015 – Jayhawk Classic (Tiana Dockery)
2016 – Bulldog Invitational (Madison Rigdon)
2016 – Kansas Invitational (Kelsie Payne)

Creighton: Kansas leads, 8-1. The Jayhawks have won the last two meetings against the Bluejays entering Thursday’s match. In 2013, Kansas defeated Creighton, 3-1, with the help of 12 blocks from then-freshman Tayler Soucie to advance to the NCAA Championship regionals for the first time in program history. In the last meeting between the teams, KU won a four-set battle on Aug. 30, 2014 over then-No. 24 Creighton.

Chattanooga: Kansas leads, 1-0. The Jayhawks defeated the Mocs in straight-set fashion during the first meeting between the programs on Sept. 4, 2010 during the Jayhawk Classic in Lawrence.

Northern Iowa: Northern Iowa leads, 10-2-1. Kansas looks to break a nine-match losing streak when the Panthers visit Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Saturday evening. Northern Iowa was ranked in the last two meetings in 2010 and 2011 – both of which were narrow five-set losses for KU. It will be the third time Northern Iowa visits Lawrence (1988, 2010).

Senior libero Cassie Wait enters this week with 1,478 career digs, which ranks second on KU’s career digs list. Last weekend she passed Melissa Manda (2007-10; 1,457) for second on the list and now stands 575 digs away from all-time leader Brianne Riley (2010-13; 2,053). Wait and Riley played on the same team in 2013. On Sept. 23, 2015 against K-State, Wait became the third-fastest Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career digs (77 matches; 282 sets).

Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie enters this weekend with 420 career blocks, ranking third on KU’s career blocks list. Soucie has recorded 100 blocks for three-consecutive seasons entering her senior campaign; the only Jayhawk to record four 100-block seasons was career blocks leader Caroline Jarmoc (2010-13; 555). Soucie, the 2015-16 Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year, trails second-place Amanda Reves (1996-99; 514) by 94 blocks.

Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili is nearing 3,000 assists, entering this week’s competition with 2,916. Havili is near to becoming the seventh Jayhawk to reach 3,000 career assists. The reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year already ranks second in career assists per set (11.66) in the KU record books.

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne is KU’s career leader in hitting percentage (.369) among attackers with at least 1,000 attempts. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year totals 729 kills and will soon become the 15th Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career kills.

A pair of Jayhawks will return to the state they have strong ties to. Senior setter Maggie Anderson grew up in Lincoln, while senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie was born in Holdredge. Soucie moved to her hometown of Osawatomie, Kansas at a young age. Anderson was born and raised in Nebraska, and was even close to attending college in Nebraska. Her recruiting story is detailed in this Rock Chalk Weekly feature from 2015.

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne was named MVP of the Kansas Invitational for her role in leading the Jayhawks to their seventh-straight nonconference tournament title. Payne averaged 4.33 kills per set and 3.11 digs per set whiling attacking with a .315 hitting percentage. The Austin, Texas native closed out the event with one of her more impressive performances of her career – registering 25 kills on a .353 hitting percentage with 13 digs, four blocks and two aces to lead Kansas to a thrilling five-set victory over Arkansas.

Senior libero Cassie Wait was awarded Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors on Monday afternoon after averaging an astounding 6.50 digs per set last weekend. It was the fourth career Big 12 weekly award for Wait, who is the league-leader in digs per set this season (5.32).

The Gardner, Kansas native helped No. 4 Kansas improve to 6-0 with three wins during the Kansas Invitational, in which she earned all-tournament team recognition. Wait started the event with 14 digs in only two sets during three-set sweep of Chicago State on Friday night. During Friday evening’s match, Wait recorded 20 digs in just three sets during a win against Maryland to set a Big 12 season high for digs in a three-set match.

The three-year starting libero posted her second career 30-dig match with 31 digs in a thrilling five-set win against Arkansas on Saturday afternoon to cap off the weekend. She added seven assists against the Razorbacks to help clinch KU’s 21st-straight nonconference regular season victory.

Freshman outside hitter Jada Burse went off for eight kills on 10 errorless swings during KU’s three-set victory over Maryland (Sept. 2). The Texan’s performance marks a KU season high for hitting percentage (.800) with a 10-attack minimum.

Kansas returned five starters, including libero Cassie Wait, from the squad that advanced all the way to the NCAA Championship semifinals in 2015. The two starting positions that needed to be replaced were outside hitter (Tiana Dockery) and middle blocker (Janae Hall). Through six matches in 2016, redshirt freshman Patricia Montero has started all six at outside hitter, while freshman Zoe Hill has five starts at middle blocker.

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon lived up to her social media nickname of ‘Mad Dawg’ during season-opening weekend, in which she was named MVP on the Bulldog Invitational. Rigdon opened the event with 14 kills in a straight-set win over host Mississippi State on Friday and finished the weekend with seven aces, 1.67 digs per set and 2.78 kills per set on a .333 hitting percentage.

Kansas leads the Big 12 in aces per set (1.9) after the first two weeks of regular-season action. The Jayhawks have four matches with seven or more aces. Individually, junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon leads the Big 12 with 14 aces – at least five more than any other player in the league.

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne owned her new role as a six-rotation player in the season opener against Mississippi State (Aug. 26), recording her first career double-double with 11 kills and a career-high 12 digs. During her first season at Kansas, Payne played the middle blocker position but missed part of the season due to injury. Last season she earned AVCA First-Team All-America honors after moving to the right-side hitter position and setting a KU single-season kills record (496) as a front-row attacker.

Kansas volleyball remained at No. 4 for the second-straight week in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll released on Labor Day. It ties for the highest ranking in program history for the third time – last week and the final poll of the 2015 season after KU finished the season in the NCAA Championship semifinals.

The Jayhawks have been ranked in the top-25 for a program-record 17-consecutive times dating back to last season, including 13-consecutive times in the top-10. The Jayhawks debuted the season with a No. 5 preseason ranking in the AVCA Coaches Poll.

Featured on KU’s schedule are No. 3 Texas (Sept. 24, Oct. 29) and No. 20 Purdue (Sept. 16). Big 12 foes Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU are currently receiving top-25 votes. One of the four teams to drop out of this week’s rankings was former-No. 22 Creighton, which hosts the Jayhawks on Thursday in Omaha.

A clerical error noted by the NCAA last week put Kansas in the lead for two 2015 statistical categories. The Jayhawks led all NCAA Division I teams in kills per set (15.10) and assists per set (14.17) last season. Boise State was the previous leader before the error was corrected. It marks the first time Kansas has led the nation in any major statistical category.

New this season, the Big 12 Conference has implemented a rule that requires three minutes between each set, including the second and third. This rule supplants the longer intermission period of 10 minutes between the second and third sets in the past. The three-minute break between sets will apply to Kansas home matches, including nonconference play, and all Big 12 matches.

Big 12 Conference volleyball coaches picked Kansas second with one first-place vote in the annual Big 12 Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The No. 2 projection ties for KU’s highest preseason position in the Big 12’s 21-year history. In 2014, the Jayhawks were also picked second with one first-place vote.

Kansas has finished second in the Big 12 regular-season standings for three-consecutive seasons behind preseason favorite Texas.

Junior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne was named KU’s first-ever Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year by the league’s head coaches. Payne joins senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and junior setter Ainise Havili on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. The same trio represented Kansas on the 2015 Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

Last season Payne led the Big 12 in kills per set (4.4) and set a Kansas single-season record for total kills (496) on the way to earning some of the top honors in the sport, including AVCA First-Team All-America, All-Big 12 First Team and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team. In addition, espnW named Payne as one of the nation’s 12 players to watch this season.

It is the third-straight season Soucie has been named to the Big 12 preseason team. In each of the past two seasons she has delivered on her potential by earning All-Big 12 First Team honors in 2014 and 2015. Last season the Osawatomie, Kansas native ranked third in the Big 12 in blocks per set (1.23) and sixth in hitting percentage (.354), while totaling six matches with double-figure kills and 11 matches with five or more blocks.

Havili, the reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year and AVCA First-Team All-American, set the pace for one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, which ranked fourth in the country in team hitting percentage (.299) and second in the country in kills per set (15.1). The Fort Worth, Texas native led the Big 12 in assists per set (12.1) and total assists (1,371) for the second-straight season while leading Kansas in total aces (31).

Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie was voted Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year for the 2015-16 academic year. 

• Accumulated over 140 community service hours during the 2015-16 academic year while participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters, along with volunteering at the local hospital and visiting local elementary schools.
• Responsible for creating the Holiday Toy Drive benefiting a local hospital.
• Named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team in both 2015 and 2014 and has found herself on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll six times.
• Holds the Community Outreach Chair position on KU’s SAAC and is the Jayhawks’ Female Big 12 SAAC representative.

Kansas Big 12 Sportspersons of the Year
2006-07: Amanda Costner, Women’s Golf
2007-08: Katie Martincich, Volleyball
2008-09: Darrell Stuckey, Football
2015-16: Tayler Soucie, Volleyball

KU’s full-time coaching staff, led by head coach Ray Bechard (three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year), associate head coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn (2015 AVCA National Assistant Coach of the Year) and assistant coach Todd Chamberlain remains intact for the sixth-consecutive season. Skyler Yee was named volunteer assistant coach for the 2016 season over the summer. Yee, a junior at KU, joins the coaching staff after serving as a team manager during the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons for the Jayhawks. Yee replaces 2015 volunteer assistant Lucas Yanez, who accepted a full-time coaching position at Coastal Carolina in May.

This season, four Jayhawks will draw from valuable experiences with USA Volleyball over the summer. All-American setter Ainise Havili and outside hitter Madison Rigdon traveled overseas for a tour of China with the U.S. Collegiate National Team. All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne and libero Cassie Wait trained with the U.S. Women’s National Team’s Pan American Cup roster in Anaheim, California. Payne was one of 12 athletes selected to the roster which competed at the 2016 Pan American Cup in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Payne and the team advanced out of Pool B with a 5-0 record and won the bronze medal match.

Kansas features five returning starters, including Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Kelsie Payne, from a 2015 squad that finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation and advanced to the program’s first-ever NCAA Championship semifinal. The Jayhawks led the Big 12 in kills, assists, aces and defensive hitting percentage during the historic season.

Last season unprecedented marks were met and exceeded during a ground-breaking run. The Jayhawks achieved their highest winning percentage in program history (.909; 30-3), highest ranking in program history (No. 4; AVCA), best postseason finish in program history (made first appearances in a Regional Final and National Semifinal), first AVCA All-America First Team selections (Ainise Havili and Kelsie Payne), program-record four-consecutive seasons of hosting the NCAA Championship First & Second Rounds, best start to a season in program history (19-0), longest winning streak in program history (W19), program’s fastest team to 20 wins (21 matches) and 30 wins (32 matches), ranked top-five nationally in hitting percentage (.299, fourth), kills per set (15.4, second), and assists per set (14.2, second).

The Jayhawks’ only three losses of the season were against the two teams that played for the NCAA title – Texas and Nebraska.

Kansas returns five starters, including Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsie Payne, from a team that finished the season with the best winning percentage in program history (30-3, .909) last season. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.