No. 5 Kansas set to begin 2016 season in Mississippi

Location Starkville, Miss.
Arena Newell-Grissom Building
 #5 KANSAS at Mississippi State
Date Friday, Aug. 26
Time 7 p.m. Central
Video SEC Network +
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
 #5 KANSAS vs. Eastern Washington
Date Saturday, Aug. 27
Time 10 a.m. Central
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
 #5 KANSAS vs. Lamar
Date Saturday, Aug. 27
Time 5 p.m. Central
Radio KLWN-AM 1320
Audio Jayhawk Radio Network
Twitter @KUVolleyball | #kuvball
Instagram @kuvolleyball | #kuvball
Facebook /KansasVolleyball | #kuvball

Media Guide 2016 Media Guide
YouTube Video: Coach Bechard Interview

LAWRENCE, Kan. – When fifth-ranked Kansas visits Mississippi State for the Bulldog Invitational to open the season this weekend, it will mark the collegiate debut for six newcomers on the Jayhawks’ roster. One of those six, true freshman Jada Burse, will make her debut in front of a familial crowd.

The freshman outside hitter was born the small town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, nestled next to the Mississippi River. Despite moving to Texas in third grade, her roots lie in Mississippi – evident by the script “Mississippi” necklace she frequently wears. Much of her extended family has remained in the Vicksburg area and plans to cheer her on during Burse’s first college match against Mississippi State on Friday night (7 p.m. CST, SEC Network+).

“I am very excited to see my family and they are excited to come watch. We are all really close,” Burse said.  “Most of them I haven’t seen in a very long time.”

With a spot open at the outside hitter position after the graduation of Tiana Dockery, her family might even see Burse in a starting role this weekend. But Burse understands that nothing will be given to her.

“I am very competitive. I don’t want to be on the bench. In my head, I’m thinking, ‘You have to show up and show out so you can potentially have that spot at outside hitter because we do have two other girls that are trying to earn the same position,” Burse acknowledged.

Burse has had to prove herself during preseason training and two-a-days where she admits she was challenged in ways she has not been challenged before. Despite the challenges and fierce competition, Burse is thankful that her teammates have been so welcoming – making the transition to high-level college volleyball smoother.

Team chemistry was a major attributing factor to KU’s unprecedented success in 2015, and Burse noted that everyone on the team still has that intangible connection.

“When this team is all together, it’s like everybody is just one big family,” Burse said. “It was really nice how easy it was to connect with them from day one.”

All-American and Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Kelsie Payne agrees.

“A lot of people are expecting big things for our team this season and the things that will help us maintain success is to involve the newcomers early and fall back on our training,” Payne said. “Last year we had great team chemistry and it is important for us to focus in on everyone finding their new role – whatever that might be. The best thing we can do now is to build on what we did last year, but at the same time move on from that and realize that we are starting with a blank slate this season.”

The 2016 regular season campaign begins on Friday, August 26 at the Bulldog Invitational against host Mississippi State. The season-opening weekend in Starkville, Mississippi, continues on Saturday with matchups against Eastern Washington (10 a.m. CST) and Lamar (5 p.m. CST). It will be KU’s first meeting with Mississippi State and Eastern Washington. Kansas won its only match with Lamar, 2-1, on Oct. 15, 1982.

During the Ray Bechard era, the Jayhawks are 12-6 in road openers, including three-straight wins in 2013 at Arizona (W, 3-1), 2014 at Denver (W, 3-1) and 2015 at Arkansas (W, 3-1). Friday’s match at Mississippi State marks KU’s first true road match to open the season since 2009 at Middle Tennessee (L, 1-3).

Second-year play-by-plan man Derek Johnson will call the action for every match of the 2016 season – exclusively available on the Kansas Radio Network through In addition to online audio streaming, 12 matches will be simulcast on over-the-air radio through partnerships with KLWN-AM 1320 and KJHK-FM 90.7 in Lawrence, and KWOD-AM 1660 in Kansas City. View the Kansas Volleyball schedule for a complete list of radio coverage.

Kanas made its highest debut in the AVCA Coaches Poll with a No. 5 preseason ranking. The Jayhawks have been ranked in the top-25 for a program-record 15-consecutive times dating back to last season, including 11 consecutive times in the top-10. This is the first time the Jayhawks have been ranked in the AVCA preseason top 25.

Featured on KU’s schedule are preseason No. 2 Texas, No. 18 Creighton and No. 20 Purdue. Big 12 foes Iowa State and TCU are receiving top-25 votes in the preseason poll.

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.

“As a three-year starter, she has made a positive impact for our team her entire career,” Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard said. “As her career has progressed, so has her willingness to get more involved in other things. There’s not a better representative of our program and our athletic department than Tayler Soucie. We’re really proud of all that she’s provided for us on the court, but also how she’s represented our athletic department off of the court.”

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.

“Skyler is as passionate about the sport of volleyball as anyone I have been around,” Bechard said. “Whether he’s in a conversation with someone brand new to the sport, or someone who plays at a high level – he has an unbelievable motor for trying to learn and share what he knows about technique, strategy, and training. He will be outstanding in this role for us.”

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.

Head Coach Ray Bechard

On the outside hitters: 
“Last season’s redshirt years for Ashley (Smith) and Patricia (Montero) will pay off for them. We would hope both of those newcomers can get in the mix for playing time. Both are versatile and can play either pin. Patricia is more of a six-rotation player. Ashley is more physical and focused on three rotations, but we need to move her into that six-rotation role. Our expectation is that those two, along with returning starters (Madison) Rigdon and (Kelsie) Payne, are four players for three spots that could create some great competition. With freshman Jada Burse, and returning starters Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon, we have five players for three spots. Whereas last season we were limited at depth. 

“We can move our hitters around with interchangeable parts, so from an attacking standpoint, I really like our versatility there now. Rigdon is the only returner with experience in the back court in that group, because three of them are new and Kelsie didn’t play back row. That will be the challenge as to who can develop into a six-rotation player and handle the primary passing duties that we need outside hitters to take care of.” 

On expanding Kelsie Payne’s versatility: 
“Kelsie is a major talent, so we try to continually challenge her to push the limits of her abilities. She has been very versatile in how she has attacked and defended in the front row. If we can expand that role to keep her in the rotation for three more rotations across the back we feel like she can score there, but can she defend and do the things we need to do from a defensive standpoint? We will give her that opportunity in the back row.”  

On middle blockers: 
“Tayler (Soucie) will set the tone for our middle blockers. Kayla (Cheadle) has had some experience early on in her career, and she will get every opportunity, along with (freshman) Zoe (Hill), to start. From those three we think we can have a really good year at the middle position. We need to figure out how we can replace a very, very steady Janae Hall, who attacked at a high level and was a consistent blocker.

“We have to have some patience with this team because last year we were working with a team that played seven matches on a foreign trip — that same lineup started in the fall. It was such a smooth transition into the fall. It will be difficult to match the consistency we had early in the season last year. Our goal will be to be playing at the highest level at the end of the season.”

On setters:
“Ainise (Havili) has a competitive motor that sets her apart from the crowd. She is not afraid to take a risk and force the ball to somebody. Halfway through her career she has already proven that she can play at the highest level there is. Maggie (Anderson) will come off the bench again as a very versatile serving specialist. She can come in and set, and do some other things for us that put us in a good position for success.”

On defensive specialists: 
“Cassie (Wait) definitely anchors that group. Tori (Miller) and Addie (Barry) have some good experience now. The two newcomers (Allie Nelson and Jacqui Mostrom) create a good mix in that position. Cassie needs to have a great year, and we need a few of those young players to step up. 

“Not many people talk about losing Anna Church, but she was solid and steady — served, passed, and dug well in three rotations. As a whole we can’t take for granted the little things that our departed players — Anna, Janae, and Tiana Dockery — did for us.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.