2013 in Review: A Season of Sweet Success
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Transitioning from successful to significant was head coach Ray Bechard’s resounding motto for the Kansas volleyball program from the first to the last day of the 2013 season – and his Jayhawks listened.
- The 2013 Jayhawks became the first team in program history to advance to the Regional Semifinals or “Sweet 16” of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Wichita State in the opening round and then Creighton in round two. KU eventually fell to No. 5-overall seeded Washington, who went on to advance to the Final Four.
- Kansas posted its highest conference finish in the Big 12 era (12-4, 2nd place), trailing only Texas’ perfect 16-0 mark.
- KU’s offense broke the program record for attack percentage (.254), downing the previous record of .246 set in 2003. The .254 mark checked in at second in the Big 12.
- Aside from attack percentage, the Jayhawks also broke the program record for block assists in a single season (522) and tallied the fourth-most kills (1,801) and second-most assists (1,694) in program history.
- The Jayhawks led the Big 12 in assists (13.55) and kills (14.41) per set, which ranked 12th and 15th in the NCAA, respectively.
- While not known for acing teams, ranking ninth in the league, the Jayhawks were also not known for giving up aces. The Jayhawks led the conference in service aces allowed, averaging only 0.70 aces per set.
- Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc closed her career as the all-time blocking leader at Kansas and the only Jayhawk to post 100+ blocks in each of her four seasons. Jarmoc leaves Lawrence as the all-time blocks leader at Kansas (555).
- On the offensive side, Jarmoc’s 1,333 career kills rank second all-time at KU, while she holds the program record for single-season (.386, 2012) and career (.327, 2010-13) attack percentage.
- Senior libero Brianne Riley tightened her hold on the KU career digs record, becoming the first Jayhawk to surpass 2,000 career digs. Her 2,053 digs rank fourth all-time in the Big 12 record book.
- Senior setter Erin McNorton dished out 1,517 assists in 2013 – just eight short of the most by a Jayhawk in a season (Julie Woodruff, 1,525, 1991). Her 3,089 career assists rank sixth all-time at Kansas.
- Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers finished the season with 339 kills, 293 digs and 110 blocks, making her the first Jayhawk to post the impressive 300-kill, 200-dig, 100-block season since former standout Cyndee Kanabel did so in 1993 (367 kills, 283 digs, 110 blocks).
- Freshman middle blocker Tayler Soucie broke the Kansas record for most blocks in a debut season with 135. Not merely a standout among rookies, Soucie led the Jayhawks with a .339 attack percentage and 1.19 blocks per set, which ranked fourth and fifth in the Big 12, respectively. Her 12 block assists at then-No. 24 Creighton (9/10) broke KU’s single-match record.
Coming off of the best fall in program history, Kansas started the 2013 campaign with its first-ever AVCA preseason ranking. Ranked No. 20 on the early poll, the Jayhawks entered the season about to embark on the most difficult non-conference schedule in the Ray Bechard era – starting with nine of their first 10 matches on the road. The loaded slate included home-and-home matches against defending national champion Texas and three other Big 12 teams that reached the NCAA’s last season in Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma. In addition, the Jayhawks squared off against Notre Dame, Arkansas twice, Creighton, Central Arkansas and Bowling Green, all of whom played in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
When the Jayhawks traveled to Pac-12 country to open the season at the Arizona Invitational, the target was on their back. Central Arkansas, one of seven teams to win 30+ matches in 2012, struck first by upsetting the Jayhawks in four sets. Although it marked the first season-opening loss since 2009, KU went to work on finishing the first weekend on a good note. Kansas knocked off Morgan State next and closed the tournament with a come-from-behind win in a true road test at Arizona, which doubled as Bechard’s 250th win at Kansas.
A victory at UMKC preceded back-to-back five-set matches against Arkansas. On Sept. 5, Kansas overcame a 2-1 deficit to surprise the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Two days later, Arkansas returned the sentiment as the visitors won in five to spoil KU’s home opener. Continuing its brutal schedule, Kansas traveled to No. 24 Creighton. After falling in the first set, KU hit a blistering .650 in the second to tie the match before succumbing to the Bluejays in four sets. The loss handed the preseason-ranked Jayhawks a 4-3 record two weeks into the season, but the losses wouldn’t last. Bechard and the Jayhawks instilled a “road warrior” mentality that saw Kansas rattle off 10-straight wins, tying the third-longest win streak in program history.
Wins against Milwaukee, Georgia and Notre Dame helped extend the streak, but the highlight came in Madison, Wis., on the home court of the top-25 Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin entered the match undefeated and quickly went up two sets to none against Kansas in its home opener. The Jayhawks refused to give up, fighting all the way back to win in five sets. Wisconsin would eventually finish as the 2013 NCAA runner-up, falling to Penn State in the national championship, and the Jayhawks cited their match against the Badgers to be the turning point of the year.
From there, KU claimed the InnTowner Invitational and Jayhawk Invitational titles to wrap up the non-conference season. The winning streak kept running in Big 12 play with a conference-opening win against TCU before traveling to in-state rival Kansas State. While the first two sets resulted in extra points, Kansas swept KSU in Manhattan for just the third time in series history.
A win at Baylor and a sweep at home against Oklahoma set up a battle for first place in the Big 12 standings when Kansas and Texas entered their Oct. 12 match undefeated in conference play. KU shook off a first-set loss to tie the match at 1-1 against the 2012 national champs, but Texas came out of the break to win sets three and four and snap KU’s win streak.
Ready to rebound, KU endured a long week of road trips with wins at Texas Tech and West Virginia. The team then returned home to host Iowa State, who was picked to finish second in the Big 12 preseason poll. The Cyclones kept their second-place pace intact, for the time being, with a five-set victory.
Again, KU bounced right back. Wins against Baylor, TCU and West Virginia put the Jayhawks in prime position to improve their third-place position in the Big 12. Getting another crack at Texas, now ranked No. 1 in the country, Kansas came out listless in its first-set loss before handing the Longhorns their second-largest set loss of the year, 25-15. Despite KU’s first set victory in Austin since 2005, Texas claimed the victory in four sets to extend its home conference winning streak to 46.
Still focused on second place, KU welcomed the Wildcats to Lawrence for the final edition of the 2013 Sunflower Showdown. Kansas State came out equally focused, stealing the first set on KU’s home court. That’s all the closer KSU would get as Kansas went into lockdown mode and sealed the next three sets for the win.
This set up a huge meeting between Kansas and No. 24 Iowa State in Ames. The Jayhawks were winless in Ames since 2004, but had no choice but to win on the road or give up second place to the Cyclones. KU did what was needed, coming up with the crucial road victory in four sets to all but cement its highest finish in conference history.
An emotional Senior Day honored the seven-member class that forever changed the Kansas volleyball program, and also saw the Jayhawks collect a sweep against Texas Tech. KU then hosted a Fan Appreciation Night against Denver inside Allen Fieldhouse, where nearly 4,000 fans took part. Now on a four-match win streak, KU had one more regular-season match to take care of at Oklahoma before learning its postseason fate. The Sooners intervened. On its own Senior Night, Oklahoma swarmed Kansas for the four-set win to send KU into Selection Sunday unsure of its postseason destination.
The NCAA obliged. Recognizing KU’s strength of schedule and a season-long stay in the RPI’s top-20, the NCAA awarded the Jayhawks a No. 14 overall seed and rights to host the first and second rounds of the tournament for the second-straight season. That was the last favor the NCAA would provide, however, as the Jayhawks were dealt a stacked bracket. KU was paired with Wichita State, who entered postseason play with a 28-6 record and a No. 35 RPI – the best RPI for a four seed in the tournament by 25 spots. Aside from WSU, Kansas (RPI: 13) welcomed Creighton (RPI: 16) and Arkansas (RPI: 36), which gave the Lawrence bracket an average RPI of 25. To top it off, all three teams in the field handed KU a loss in their last meeting with the Jayhawks.
First up, KU was forced to revisit the team that knocked the Jayhawks out of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on the very same court as the Wichita State Shockers were KU’s first-round draw. After a year of reflecting on the loss, Kansas was ready and outplayed the Shockers in a four-set win. The Jayhawks had another familiar foe waiting in round two as Creighton made the trip three months after defeating KU at its place. While the Bluejays had one of the best blocking teams in the country and played every set down to the wire, it wasn’t enough to keep Kansas from its first Sweet 16 berth in program history.
The Los Angeles Regional awaited the Jayhawks, along with the fifth-ranked and overall third-seeded Washington Huskies. Playing with their infamous road warrior mentality, the Jayhawks entered the big stage with confidence and poise. But Washington, who has been to eight Sweet 16s in the last 12 years, was unrelenting. The Huskies ended KU’s historic run with a three-set loss, the first time in 45 matches that KU was swept, en route to advancing to the Final Four.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On what the first trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 means for this program:
“I was just happy for the senior kids, first and foremost. They are a group that has, obviously, put in a lot of time and effort. They endured some tough stretches and over the last two years, we really got to enjoy some cool things. I’m happy for them. I’m also happy because we always want to hold up our end of the deal. We want our volleyball program to be one of the strengths of our athletic department. I think we brought a lot of joy to the Jayhawk fans and the athletic department overall. Anytime you can accomplish something like this it creates some momentum not only for your program, but the athletic department overall. It’s interesting that other people and fans around town seem to recognize what we did, too, and I’ll get a congrats from someone now and then – that’s really pretty cool.”
On the continued progress toward transitioning this program from successful to significant:
“It’s hard to compare the years, because last year was a landmark. This year, we bit off a little tougher pre-conference schedule, we finished higher in the conference than we ever have before and advanced further into the NCAA Tournament than we ever have before. They handled the pressure of beating some really good teams, when the pressure was on us to beat them at home during the NCAA Tournament. So all of those things collectively helped that progress. And then, with the exception of the last match of the year, nobody beat us 3-0, which is as relevant as anything else. It means they fought hard each and every match. They did take on the challenge of being a successful program last year and became a significant one this year. There’s so much involved in that. Last year, we ‘came out of nowhere’ to some and this year the expectations were there from the beginning. I wouldn’t say that we struggled with that, but we had to figure out how to manage that. We were 4-3 at one time, but we kept faith in the process and in each other and got a little streak going.”
On watching Wisconsin, a team that KU came back to beat after an 0-2 deficit earlier this season, play for the National Championship:
“If you’re a little bit off, you can get it handed to you – like we did against Washington – and if you’re a little bit on, the margin is pretty close. I’ll remember about what we talked about between sets two and three at Wisconsin for a long time, about how close we were but we just weren’t finishing plays. It’s a match that we should embrace. I think that match was the beginning for a pretty good stretch for us. Obviously, Wisconsin kept chopping away and they even dealt with some injuries, although I’m pretty sure we saw their full roster, but they had a season that people can identify with, too. It’s a sport where people can look pretty average, or you can look close to being a Final Four team as the margin really isn’t that much. I think as our team reflects back, they now know that they beat the national runner-up on their home floor, down 0-2. That speaks to the commitment they have to each other.”
On breaking the program attack percentage record:
“That speaks to our team’s balance. Jar (Caroline Jarmoc) carried a tremendous load last year, but with the consistency of Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton and the added depth really came on for us. If Cathy (Carmichael) or Tiana (Dockery) or Sara weren’t at their best, you could typically find two of the three that were on for us. Then to have a freshman come in and hit above .300 was huge. So we had balance, which means offensively we were a tough game plan, but in order to do that we had to pass efficiently and have a setter that could distribute the ball evenly.”
On Erin McNorton’s Big 12 Setter of the Year award being a proud moment for him:
“For a kid that comes in and asks what role did I want her to play and then does that, when she got her chance, she seized it. She’s a person that not many people would think is very competitive, but she is. She has a ‘jock’ attitude about her. I wouldn’t call her a tomboy, but she likes sports and has a knowledge about what is going on and knows what it’s like to compete. (As the setters coach), I’ve spent a lot of time with her in the gym individually so that time spent and then the support and competition from fellow senior Kara Wehrs helped her be successful. Erin McNorton is certainly a great story. I’m proud of her. I think she will walk away from here feeling like she accomplished a great deal – probably even more than what her expectations were.”
On the uniqueness and impact of the seven-member senior class:
“I doubt we will (ever see another group that big with as much chemistry), so we’re just going to have to let them go. If we try to hang on to how Brianne Riley is, we’ll go on to be disappointed for the rest of our life because there’s nobody quite like her. I don’t think we’ll find people who were more willing to accept their role while still working hard to be great teammates like the twins (Amy and Kara Wehrs) did. Obviously, Catherine Carmichael was a story in herself, coming from volleyball oblivion to here with a lot of hard work. (Caroline) Jarmoc’s success and her journey here has been a great story. Jaime Mathieu and the way she competed, what she overcame, all stands out to me. They were a very unique group and I hope they remain soul sisters for a long time. I think they will stay connected for a long time and always be excited to reunite and talk about their time here together.”
On the other hand, freshman Tayler Soucie had a fantastic rookie season among the veterans:
“We were hoping that she could come in here and manage all of it. Not only did she manage it, but she also contributed heavily. She wanted to be on the court from day one. It did not overwhelm her and if it did, she did not let on. She played with a level of energy and enthusiasm that was good for our team. When she first got here, it was easier for her to do that because she had so many other players around her to shoulder most of the workload, but she understood that she could compete at this level and help this team. Certainly, she did that. We’re excited about the start she’s had in her career and what we can do to build on that.”
On the single moment or event of the season that he’s the most proud of:
“The Wichita State match. It would’ve been really easy for our team to say ‘Well, here we go again.’ It was the toughest first-round match for any of the seeded teams. But, I was most proud of their competitive confidence and how they approached the days leading up to that match. Then at our pass and serve on the day of the match, I thought ‘Wow, these guys are ready.’ Their focus was narrowed in and I really appreciated that. To go out and win a pretty emotional effort, then bounce back and beat a good Creighton team the next night – that’s going to stick with you for a while. So will things like winning 17-15 in the fifth set at Wisconsin, sweeping our in-state rival and winning at Iowa State. There were a number of things that were really noteworthy, but for this team to really look each other in the eye, trust each other and know that they were going to get a good result – it was when we hosted this year. That was pretty cool.”
On his second-straight Big 12 and AVCA Regional Coach of the Year awards:
“Program of the Year? (smiles) If you get yourself around a lot of people who are all going after the same goals – my assistant coaches (Laura “Bird” Kuhn, Todd Chamberlain, Wendel Camargo) are such a big part of it and they know that. Aimee Miyazawa (Certified Athletic Trainer) kept everybody healthy. Luke Bradford (Strength and Conditioning Coach) kept us in shape. The list just goes on and on about the support we get, specifically from (Kansas Athletics Director) Sheahon Zenger. We charter to matches that other teams don’t. I just get to represent that, and I guess they have to give the award to somebody for that. It’s a major cumulative effort of a ton of people.”
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