No. 6 Kansas capitalizes on back-row versatility entering Wednesday at Iowa State
Notes Match Notes (.pdf)
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A high-octane offense has been, and continues to be, a prominent feature in the identity of Kansas volleyball among the nation’s elite programs. Last season, the Jayhawks led the country in kills per set on the way to the program’s first-ever Final Four appearance.
But entering Wednesday’s match at Iowa State (6:30 p.m. Central, FOX Sports Network), the defense deserves some lime light for the sixth-ranked Jayhawks.
Anchoring that defense, which paces the Big 12 in opponent hitting percentage (.138) and aces allowed (0.6 per set), is a back row of passers led by senior libero Cassie Wait and supplemented by defensive specialists junior Tori Miller, junior Addison Barry and freshman Allie Nelson.
Wait, a three-year starting libero, currently leads the Big 12 in digs per set (5.06), has reached 30 digs in two matches and features a trio of 20-dig performances in only three sets. All the while, she is beginning her first year of law school at KU this fall.
“Cassie is exactly what you look for in the libero position,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard boasted. “She has played her best volleyball during her senior season. Throughout her career, Cassie has gained confidence in her ability to create a defensive mindset and be the captain of our defense, passing at a high level, digging at a high level, and improving her great range.”
Miller, Barry and Nelson have all assisted Wait in protecting the back row this season. All three defensive specialists have received ample playing time based on the ebb and flow of practice performance or what the in-match situation calls for.
It remains to be seen who will step-up as the Jayhawks seek their first Big 12 road win of the season at Iowa State, but KU’s versatility in the back-row, including six-rotation outside hitter Madison Rigdon, has proved to be reliable.
“We are constantly evaluating, but we have given them all a chance in pressure situations,” Bechard continued. “Tori (Miller) got a lot of opportunities early. Addison (Barry) played well at Texas. Allie (Nelson) contributed nicely on Saturday against Baylor. They all have their strengths, but we felt that we wanted to give them all an opportunity in pressure situations. To this point they have all, at one point or another, done a nice job for us in those situations. We feel like we can go as deep as we need to depending on the situation.”
Wednesday’s match in Ames will be televised nationally on FOX Sports Network or streaming online through FOX Sports GO. Live radio coverage will be available on KWOD-AM 1660 in the Kansas City area or at KUAthletics.com/radio.
Iowa State leads the all-time series with Kansas, 47-40-1. Since the start of Big 12 play in 1996, the Jayhawks have a 23-17 advantage. KU’s current three-match winning streak over the Cyclones is the longest for the Jayhawks since winning 10-straight in the series from 2000 to 2004. Kansas is 10-28 all-time in Ames against ISU, but the ‘Hawks have won two of the last three matches inside Hilton Coliseum.
LAST TIME OUT
Eighth-ranked Kansas ended Baylor’s 10-match winning streak with a four-set victory on Saturday, Oct. 1, in Lawrence. The Jayhawks improved to 6-0 at home this season. Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon recorded 20 kills and 13 digs, while senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie registered nine kills with six blocks. After Baylor started the match with a .457 hitting percentage in the first set, Kansas slowed down the Bears’ offense to a combined .106 hitting clip in the last three sets. The Jayhawks out-blocked Baylor, the Big 12 leader in blocks, 8.5 to 5.5.
JAYHAWKS’ FORMIDABLE DEFENSE
Kansas leads the Big 12 in four defensive categories – hitting percentage allowed (.138), kills allowed (10.96), assists allowed (10.33) and aces allowed (0.58). KU’s opponents have recorded a hitting percentage below .200 in 13 of 15 matches this season, including three with a negative hitting percentage (under .000). In the Jayhawks’ only two losses this season, their opponent has hit over .300.
WAIT: BIG 12 LEADER IN DIGS
Senior libero Cassie Wait leads the Big 12 in digs per set (5.06) and is the floor general for a KU defense which is holding opponents to a Big 12-best .138 hitting percentage. Wait earned back-to-back Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors on Sept. 5 and Sept. 12. The Gardner, Kansas native has reached 20 digs in seven of this season’s matches, including three 20-dig performances in a three-set match. Wait set a Bluejay Invitational record of 33 digs during KU’s five-set victory over preseason-No. 18 Creighton (Sept. 8), marking her third career 30-dig performance. Wait ranks 26th nationally in digs per set.
RACKING UP THE DUBS
KU’s 43 wins since the start of the 2015 season ranks tied for fourth with USC in NCAA Division I volleyball during that period. Western Kentucky leads with 48, followed by Washington (45) and Nebraska (44).
Kansas leads the Big 12 in aces per set (1.6) and feature nine matches with five or more aces. Individually, junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon leads the Big 12 and ranks fifth nationally with 30 aces. The Jayhawks are 12-0 this season when recording more aces than their opponent.
The Jayhawks also lead the Big 12 in aces allowed, limiting opponents to just 0.6 aces per set. In comparison, Rigdon alone averages 0.6 aces per set.
CLIMBING THE LADDER
Senior libero Cassie Wait enters Wednesday with 1,650 career digs, which ranks second on KU’s career digs list. She now stands 403 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 452 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 62 blocks.
Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili became the seventh Jayhawk to reach 3,000 career assists after registering 47 against Chattanooga (Sept. 9). She enters this weekend with 3,287 career assists. The reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year already ranks second in career assists per set (11.53) in the KU record books.
Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne is KU’s career leader in hitting percentage (.355) among attackers with at least 1,000 attempts. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year totals 863 kills and will soon become the 15th Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career kills.
Kansas moved up two spots to No. 6 in the AVCA Coaches Poll on Monday. The Jayhawks debuted the season with a No. 5 preseason ranking, spent three weeks at No. 4 – tying the program’s highest ranking, and spent the last two weeks at No. 8 before the latest rankings were published this week.
The Jayhawks have been ranked in the top-25 for a program-record 21-consecutive times dating back to last season, including 17-consecutive times in the top-10. KU finished last season ranked No. 4 after advancing to the Final Four.
KU’s only losses of the season have come against ranked opponents on the road – then-No. 14 Purdue on Sept. 16 and then-No. 5 Texas on Sept. 24.
RIGDON ON THE WAY TO CAREER SEASON
Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon has a head start to her most successful season as a Jayhawk. The Pflugerville, Texas native has garnered two nonconference tournament MVP honors (Bulldog Classic, Bluejay Invitational) and ranks sixth in the nation in aces per set (0.56). Rigdon has increased production across the board in kills, hitting accuracy, digs and service aces, comparted to last season’s All-Big 12 Second Team campaign.
Kansas has won all three of its five-set matches this season. All three five-set tests have come in different settings – at home against Arkansas (Sept. 3), on the road at Creighton (Sept. 8), and at a neutral site against Xavier (Sept. 16). During last season’s unprecedented run to the Final Four, the Jayhawks played two five-set matches the entire season – at home against No. 5 Texas and in the NCAA regional final against No. 1 USC.
KU’s 10-0 start tied for the second-best start in program history, trailing only last season’s Final Four team which started 19-0. KU’s 2001 season also began 10-0. The four best starts in KU’s history have been under the tutelage of head coach Ray Bechard.
Kansas concluded nonconference play with an 11-1 record. The Jayhawks’ 25-match winning streak against nonconference opponents during the regular season came to an end in a four-set loss at No. 14 Purdue (Sept. 16). The regular-season nonconference winning streak began on Sept. 19, 2014 and included eight-straight nonconference tournament titles. Kansas is 180-30 (.857) against nonconference teams during the regular season under head coach Ray Bechard.
PAYNE NAMED MVP OF KANSAS INVITATIONAL
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 while 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.
PAYNE DOUBLE-DOUBLES IN SIX-ROTATION DEBUT
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 returned five starters 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). Redshirt freshman Patricia Montero has started 12 of 15 matches at outside hitter, while freshman Jada Burse has started in last three of the last four. At middle blocker, freshman Zoe Hill has 11 starts and junior Kayla Cheadle has four starts.
Dockery was a four-year starter for the Jayhawks who averaged 2.4 kills per set and 1.7 digs per set in her career. Hall boasted a .328 career hitting percentage while contributing 1.7 kills per set and 0.8 blocks per set.
2015 NCAA OFFENSE LEADERS
A clerical error noted by the NCAA just before the 2016 season started 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.
NO MORE INTERMISSION (BIG 12 MATCHES)
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.
KU PICKED SECOND IN BIG 12 PRESEASON POLL
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.
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.
USA VOLLEYBALL EXPERIENCE
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.
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