KU begins 2018 campaign against Arkansas Friday, Sunday
After opening the 2018 season with a thrilling five-set victory over Arkansas on Friday, Kansas volleyball makes its home regular-season debut with a rematch against the Razorbacks on Sunday afternoon in Lawrence (1 p.m., ESPN+).
• This weekend marks the start of the 2018 volleyball season, which is the KU’s 43rd season and 21st under head coach Ray Bechard. In his time with the Crimson and Blue, Bechard has compiled a 374-240 record and guided Kansas to all of its nine NCAA Tournament appearances. Bechard is the winningest coach in program history.
• The Jayhawks and Razorbacks are meeting for the 12th and 13th time in program history this weekend. KU leads the series, 8-4, including a 5-1 advantage in Fayetteville. The series is even, 3-3, in Lawrence. Kansas has won the last four matches in the series after rallying from a two-set deficit to defeat Arkansas in five sets on Friday evening.
• KU begins the 2018 campaign receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Arkansas is unranked.
• 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 is 18-3 in season-openers under Coach Bechard, including five-straight season-opening wins. Friday marked the second time Kansas opened its season against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville since a 3-1 KU victory on Sept. 1, 2004.
• Kansas improved to 15-6 record in true road openers under Coach Bechard, including six-straight road-opening victories.
• This marks the first time in program history that KU has opened three-straight seasons with a true road match — at Mississippi State in 2016, at NC State in 2017 and at Arkansas in 2018.
• The Jayhawks are 23-1 in home openers since 1993, including a 19-1 mark under Coach Bechard. Last season, KU swept No. 13 Kentucky to open its home schedule at Horejsi Family Athletics Center. KU’s only home-opening loss since 1993 came in five sets to Arkansas in 2013 after a string of 20-straight home-opening wins.
• For the third-consecutive season, season tickets for KU’s home matches at Horejsi Family Athletics Center are sold out.
• 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).
• KU’s returning starters are junior defensive specialist Allie Nelson, junior middle blocker Zoe 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 left-handed setter/right-side hitter Gabby Simpson, a transfer who redshirted during her first season with KU in 2017. Simpson 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.
• Kansas was picked to finish fourth in the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll.
• Junior outside hitters Patricia Montero and Ashley 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.
• Montero is returning to action this season after a knee injury sidelined her for the 2017 season. The Puerto Rico native started 15 matches in 2016.
• 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 after being ranked in the top-25 for 45-straight weeks prior to the end of the season.
• 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.
Kansas travels to Lexington, Kentucky, for the Bluegrass Battle next weekend. The Jayhawks will face Dayton and College of Charleston on Friday, Aug. 31, followed by a primetime matchup against host No. 5 Kentucky on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. Central.
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