Road Trip on 10: Kansas Takes Training to Europe
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Sports provide opportunities beyond the court, beyond defeating opponents and beyond breaking records. This May, Kansas volleyball will experience how much more.
From May 18-30, the Jayhawks will set off on their European training trip aimed at combining cultural education with intense practices and competition. The team will play six matches, sandwiched between training sessions and travel to destinations in Italy, France and Spain.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming sometimes when you think that a little white ball would create such an opportunity for everybody,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “We’ll be forever grateful, first and foremost, that our administration creates opportunities for us to do this because it doesn’t work that way everywhere. But that is the way (KU Athletics Director) Dr. (Sheahon) Zenger thinks – we’re going to give our kids every opportunity to be the best they can be. That’s pretty cool.”
Bechard continued by saying that he has never been to Spain personally, and although he’s been to Italy and France, he and the Jayhawks will venture to places he hasn’t yet seen. The program has been on a periodical rotation of foreign training trips as the team traveled to Italy in 2011 and Brazil in 2005. Bechard, who will begin his 18th season at KU this fall, took the Jayhawks on both of their previous training excursions and said each were life-changing experiences.
The Jayhawks will visit destinations from Milan and Torino, Italy, to Southern France, including Nice, before concluding the trip in Barcelona, Spain.
“It will be business-focused, but we also have to experience the culture,” Bechard said. “You’ve got the Shroud of Turin in Torino (Italy), I mean holy cow. You’ve got The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan (Italy) and the incredible history in Barcelona (Spain). Then, at every stop, everyone is trying to build a bigger church than the last so you’ve got to combine the cultural and the athletic side to come up with a good experience.”
The business part will come more naturally, as the Jayhawks have been back in the gym all semester with team practices and eight unofficial spring contests. Kansas is riding a streak of three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and back-to-back seasons of finishing second in the powerhouse Big 12 Conference.
Though the arrival of fall always happens faster than expected from a coach’s preparation viewpoint, Bechard sees the extra training time as extremely valuable. The six matches against foreign competition, including the high-caliber Italian Federation, will likely put the Jayhawks ahead of schedule when they report for the season in August.
“It gives you a few more practices before you go, so that’s more opportunities to handle the ball,” Bechard explained. “It gets us away from a lot of distractions, where we have to rely on each other quite a bit more. As our roster the last two years has undergone a pretty drastic redo, this will be a good opportunity for us as we experiment with different kids in different positions to get some practical experience. You get six matches or so, which is about 25 percent of your season, and that extra training time is invaluable. I just know it’ll be extremely positive.”
Only two seniors, Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton, exited the roster following the 2014 season and will not make the trip. While their combined five All-Big 12 selections and more than 2,000 career kills will be missed, Bechard and his current crew are excited about the talent that returns. Senior-to-be outside hitter Tiana Dockery will begin her quest to become the only player in KU history to make four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, while juniors-in-waiting Tayler Soucie and Cassie Wait return from All-Big 12 First-Team and record-breaking libero seasons, respectively, just to name a few.
“I think the timing works out pretty well for this group,” Bechard said. “It would be awesome if we could take our incoming freshmen with us, but that’s obviously not how it works. Timing is still pretty good in that we are a pretty young team. Now with (incoming transfer) Anna Church we have two seniors, but the majority of them are underclassmen.”
Seven freshmen joined the Jayhawks a year ago, including Big 12 All-Freshman Team selections Kelsie Payne and Ainise Havili. Payne ranked second in the Big 12 in attack percentage (.341) for the season, while Havili led the league in assists (1,332), which also broke the KU freshman record.
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