Kuhn Named Associate Head Volleyball Coach
LAWRENCE, Kan. – When asked about the reasons for Kansas volleyball’s steady rise, 17-year head coach Ray Bechard is quick to respond that his coaching staff has been behind every award, new achievement and signature win. On Friday, Bechard promoted a prominent member of that staff, announcing that Laura “Bird” Kuhn is the Jayhawks’ new associate head coach.
Bechard, who collected his 1,000th career win during the 2014 season, has never worked alongside an associate head coach in his tenure at Kansas. Kuhn’s impact in her four seasons on staff, however, made it perfectly logical for her to become the first.
“It’s new for Kansas volleyball, but it’s the right move,” Bechard said. “Any time you get the chance to involve somebody in your program that has a good deal of influence, who shares many of the same philosophies and goals that you do, who does a great job of player interaction and who is accountable at a high level – certainly you want to reward that. We see a lot of those things in coach Laura Kuhn. She is going to be a great contributor to our sport for a long time.”
Kuhn joined the coaching ranks following her playing career at Georgia Tech (2001-04) and arrived in Lawrence after spending three years as an assistant at Miami (2008-10). She has also made stops as an assistant coach at Appalachian State and Florida State. Since her arrival at Kansas prior to the 2011 season, the influence to which Bechard refers is unquestionable.
After just one season with the Jayhawks, she helped Bechard to Big 12 Coach of the Year and American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Region Coach of the Year awards in back-to-back seasons (2012 and 2013). Kuhn also took part in coaching success with former bosses. Appalachian State head coach Matt Ginipro earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2007, Kuhn’s only year with the Mountaineers. Following her first season at Miami, Kuhn helped Hurricanes’ head coach Nicole Lantagne-Welch earn 2008 ACC Coach of the Year and AVCA Region Coach of the Year honors.
“I’m super excited about being associate head coach at Kansas,” Kuhn said. “Coach B and I have talked about it and means a lot to me to share this with him. That’s one of the first things I told him, that I really appreciate it. I’m not about titles and this isn’t going to change my role, but I think this portrays us to be a stronger team and a stronger program. It’s a cool dynamic to be the first associate head coach at Kansas.”
As the Jayhawks’ recruiting coordinator, Kuhn rarely has her phone off, working around the clock to get potential players excited about becoming Jayhawks. She led the charge of KU’s 15th-ranked recruiting class of 2014, which included high-profile Texas recruits Kelsie Payne, Madison Rigdon and Ainise Havili. One of two setters on the USA Women’s Junior National Team, Havili earned postseason accolades on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and the AVCA All-America Honorable Mention team.
“She can be anybody’s best friend in a hurry,” Bechard said. “She just has that ability to absorb herself into whatever group or setting she’s in. That transitions well into building relationships with recruits and other people related to the sport. Obviously, that’s one of her many strengths.”
It’s not possible to list Kuhn’s strengths without mentioning her integral role in the Jayhawks’ training. She works primarily with the middle blockers, and her effect is easy to see. The Jayhawks have watched their blocking numbers soar to the top-tier of the Big 12 in each of her seasons at KU. In 2012, the Jayhawks racked up 2.62 blocks per set, good for second in the conference and 31st in the NCAA. Also in 2012, the Jayhawks recorded 492 block assists, the most by a KU team since 1996. A year later, in 2013, the Jayhawks broke the school single-season record with 522 block assists.
In 2014, Kansas’ middle blocking corps dealt with the departure of its all-time blocks leader and two-time All-American Caroline Jarmoc. With Kuhn’s guidance, Kansas still finished third in the league in blocks, while sophomore Tayler Soucie completed the season as the Big 12 blocking leader with 1.40 blocks per set.
“It’s a mindset in how you train,” Kuhn said. “I don’t even think it’s directly what we are doing; obviously it is physically, but I also believe that it’s a mindset. It’s the way you speak to them, where you have a constant expectation of what they’re going to accomplish. That’s what it’s been from the get-go for me. It takes time to gain that respect. You gain it by working with them, talking to them and always expecting the most from them.”
KU’s blocking trend since Kuhn’s arrival is not a coincidence. In all four of her seasons, Kansas has accumulated at least 2.50 blocks per set and more than 285.0 total blocks. No KU teams before that have accomplished either streak for four-consecutive years.
Kuhn has guided the Jayhawk defense to new levels, but her increased hand in play-calling has also seen benefits on the offensive side. In 2014, two of her middles ranked in the top five in the Big 12 for attack percentage. Payne registered a .341 efficiency and Soucie hit .326, good for second and fifth in the league, respectively. One year prior, Jarmoc set the Kansas career record with her .327 mark.
“It’s just a reflection of her overall contribution, how invested she is and a lot of hard work,” Bechard said of the promotion. “She’s pretty unique in a lot of different ways. Her dad was a coach, so that had a major influence in her life and continues to. She strives to represent what he stood for in many ways. She is so interested in learning about people and she certainly has made a huge impact on us while she’s been here. Our sport needs quality females coaching at high levels and that definitely seems to be her trajectory going forward.”
The tenacity she exudes as a coach stems directly from her resolve as a player. A three-year starter at Georgia Tech, Kuhn led the Yellow Jackets to three ACC regular-season championships, one ACC tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearances in each of her four seasons. The teams advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2002 and 2004, and charged their way to the Elite Eight in 2003. After graduation, Kuhn got into coaching at the club level in 2005 – and never looked back.
Ten years into her coaching career, Kuhn has withstood the happiness and heartbreak that comes with the profession. A profession she knows she was meant for.
“It’s my passion for the sport, but it’s the influence I have on the girls’ lives that is equally important to me,” Kuhn said. “Where I came from at Georgia Tech and the teammates and coaches I had there, it’s a family. I’m still super close with them, and I’m close that way with everyone in my life through athletics. We all share that passion – that’s my dad. I’m living his dream. There’s a lot more to accomplish and that’s what drives me.”
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