Spring Update: Jayhawk Volleyball Gets Reps in KC
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas volleyball has been in the gym all spring, training and preparing to improve on the Jayhawks’ historical run to the Sweet 16 last fall. On Saturday, the team tested its off-season work against Wichita State, Saint Louis and Illinois in a full day of spring scrimmaging.
The Jayhawks finished 25-8 overall in 2013 and 12-4 in Big 12 Conference play, good for a program-best, second-place finish in the league before saying goodbye to a remarkable seven-member senior class. Although a pair of former players did jump in to help the team’s depth on Saturday, the Jayhawks were led by a crew of new faces.
“That’s what we keep talking about, ‘What is our connection with this group like now?’ What is the competitive culture that we’re developing with this group? Because this is the group that will carry it forward,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “How we communicate with each other, how we compete, how we support each other – those are all things that we’re looking at and working on. This weekend gave us a good chance to do that.”
Bechard, the back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year, utilized the players available to him in the unofficial action. Injuries nagged at his already “skeleton crew” as he described it, but those called upon stepped up and played well – particularly setter Maggie Anderson and libero Cassie Wait. Both will be sophomores for the 2014 season.
Anderson has currently taken on the large shoes left behind by the 2013 Big 12 Setter of the Year, Erin McNorton, while Wait is doing the same in the libero spot as she follows the Kansas all-time digs leader in Brianne Riley.
“It was interesting to see how those two would do, since neither of them had been in those roles before,” Bechard said. “But for Maggie to go from not having played hardly any to running the show now, puts us in a good position. It was great to get her a lot of game experience and I thought she made a lot of good decisions and distributed the ball well. Cassie performed at a high level in that libero spot, not only with first contact, but she also made a number of positive plays defensively.”
All-Big 12 First Team right side/outside hitter Chelsea Albers, who will be a senior, was unavailable, opening up an opportunity for upcoming sophomore Emma Hanson to get a full day of playing time on the right side. She was joined by outsides Sara McClinton, a two-time All-Big 12 senior-to-be, and junior-to-be Tiana Dockery, who both played all six rotations. A member of the All-Big 12 Freshman team last fall, Tayler Soucie held down the middle.
“Offensively, I liked what we were doing,” Bechard said. “We’re working on some tempo things, so that was good. For Sara and Dock (Dockery), it was good for them to get a sense of playing all six rotations. Tiana has been there before, but for Sara it was good. Then we had Emma out there playing against high-level teams and doing well.”
Bechard acknowledged that his team was notably smaller than normal and will be until the freshman class of 2014 arrives on campus this summer, but was still happy with the results. Kansas played four matches consisting of two sets apiece against the Shockers, Billikens and Fighting Illini. No official scores or stats were kept, yet the Jayhawk coaching staff saw much of what they needed to.
“It’s good to put them out there,” Bechard said. “We identify more things that need attention. We weren’t at full strength, but we were able to get a lot of people a lot of positive, quality reps. That’s, of course, what we need right now.”
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