Kansas Reveals 2015 Volleyball Schedule
|2015 Kansas Volleyball Home Schedule
|South Dakota State
|*Denotes Big 12 Conference match.
Times and TV Broadcasts TBA.
LAWRENCE, Kan. – If the Kansas Jayhawk volleyball program is to receive its unprecedented fourth-straight NCAA Tournament bid, it will have to earn it by overcoming a very tough schedule in 2015. The Jayhawks will square off against eight NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and three squads that appeared in the final 2014 AVCA poll. Of the 20 opponents on KU’s schedule, all but four were top-100 RPI teams last fall. The 40th season in Kansas volleyball history starts with the unveiling of the 2015 schedule.
Last fall, Kansas sold out a record number of matches, including all but one Big 12 contest. Tickets for the 2015 Kansas volleyball season will go on sale June 8. Fans can purchase tickets by going to KUAthletics.com and accessing the Tickets tab or by calling the ticket office at 800.34.HAWKS. Williams Fund members receive two priority points per account with the purchase of volleyball season tickets by July 17, and must order by August 1 to receive priority seating.
Led by 18-year Kansas coaching veteran Ray Bechard, the Jayhawks return nearly a full roster from last fall. A roster that powered KU to a 22-9 overall record, marking three-straight years of 20+ win seasons for the first time since 1980-81-82, and further strengthened the Jayhawks’ footing in the Big 12 Conference. With a 10-6 record in league play, KU made it back-to-back seasons with a second-place finish. All of which led to a No. 16 overall national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
When the 2015 season officially opens August 28, the Jayhawks set their sights on turning their run of success into an unprecedented streak. Never in Kansas volleyball history has the program been to four-straight NCAA Tournaments – but never is an awfully long time.
“When you think ‘Ok, we’ve done some nice things,’ there is always more,” Bechard said. “There’s a lot more. And we’ll have to do a lot more in a time when our league is at its all-time best and a time where we’ve bitten off an extremely competitive non-conference schedule – with a team that’s still pretty youthful. That’s who we are, who we want to be and what we’ll strive to be.”
Experience and chemistry will be equally in demand as the stakes continue to rise. Not to mention, the Jayhawks will be aiming to dethrone Texas and its four-straight Big 12 titles.
“Texas is going to be good, everybody else just has to get their act together to catch them,” Bechard said. “It’s like people waiting around for Kansas basketball to stub their toe – it just ain’t gonna happen. Does that mean Texas can’t be beat? No. But we’ve got to elevate what we’re doing, we can’t expect them to come back to us – we’ve got to go get them. That’s what our goal is.”
In all, 12 letterwinners return from the 2014 campaign, four of whom were starters. Only two seniors departed, although both Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton left sizable holes to fill. Each were two-time All-Big 12 First Team selections and led the team in kills last fall, but Bechard and his staff were prepared. With the addition of two high-profile freshmen and an experienced senior transfer, the Jayhawks will start the 2015 campaign with a veteran feel.
“We had kids that had good years and, obviously, we have some new players coming in that we hope can add to that,” Bechard said. “From the competition this spring, I think we could take the squad we had and roll right into the fall and be competitive, but it’s good that we have some people joining rank that can help us. They may not come in here and dominate right away, but they are going to create a competitive environment by position that will keep everybody sharp.”
Kansas starts the 2015 slate in Fayetteville, Arkansas where the Razorbacks will host the Arkansas Tournament. Army will serve as KU’s official season-opening opponent, squaring off against the Jayhawks for the first time in school history on Aug. 28. McNeese State follows that up on Friday evening. The weekend finale will see the host match up with KU, marking the fourth-straight season Kansas and Arkansas have met. The Razorbacks finished the 2014 slate fifth in the SEC.
“They’ll be tough there and we saw them twice this spring,” Bechard said. “He (Arkansas head coach Robert Pulliza) is going to be much more physical than he’s been. Certainly, this will be an SEC program and a Big 12 program with high aspirations. This could be one of the best teams he’s had since he’s been there and I know he’s bringing a competitive field to this tournament. Army and McNeese State will take our best effort before we even get to the Razorbacks.”
Opening at home the weekend of Sept. 4-5, Bechard and his staff put together a fierce field for the Kansas Invitational. All three teams come to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center after winning 20+ matches a year ago. KU’s first home match of the year pits the Jayhawks against Coastal Carolina, the Big South Tournament champs with a 25-7 record in 2014. Leah Hardeman returns for her sophomore year after winning Big South Player and Freshman of the Year honors.
Friday night is reserved for a marquee matchup between KU and Duke. Led by 17-year head coach Jolene Nagel, the Blue Devils finished third in the ACC with a 22-8 record and led the league in assists, digs and kills per set in 2014. Kansas looks to neighboring UMKC to close out the first weekend in Lawrence. The ‘Roos were the regular-season Western Athletic Conference (WAC) champs at 24-6, 12-2 and longtime KU assistant Christi Posey was named the 2014 WAC Coach of the Year.
“UMKC has been building toward this year,” Bechard said. “They won 24 matches last year. Coastal has everybody back and has added to their group. Then you have Duke, another NCAA team with a ton of people back. There will be four teams in that tournament that all feel like they can do well in their league – UMKC won theirs last year, Coastal won theirs, Duke was in the top three and Kansas was second. That’s a pretty amazing field.”
For the first time since 2008, Kansas will head to Laramie, Wyoming, to run through another gauntlet. From September 11-12, the Jayhawks will take on three more 20+ win teams from last fall. Northern Colorado kicks off the competition, bringing a 22-11 mark from 2014 and their fourth Big Sky Tournament championship in the last five years.
Host school Wyoming finished third in the Mountain West a year ago with a 23-8 record. The Cowgirls and Jayhawks have faced off five times in series history with KU holding a 4-1 advantage. Marquette brings up the closing slot in what will be a thrilling Saturday matchup. The Golden Eagles are coming off four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a 24-9 mark last fall. The reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year, outside hitter Autumn Bailey, returns for her junior year.
“Usually when you have a three-team tournament, you feel like you can take a little emotional break somewhere in there, but if that happens in that first weekend at home, we’re going to get bumped,” Bechard said. “Then that transitions right into a Wyoming weekend where I know he (head coach Chad Callihan) feels like he has his best team. Marquette has been at the top of its game and Northern Colorado has been an NCAA Tournament team repeatedly. We’re going to go from a great event in Lawrence, Kansas, to a very competitive event in Laramie, Wyoming.
“Plus, Lieutenant Dan will be there,” Bechard added with a laugh. “Dan Georgalas, a former manager and volunteer assistant here, is doing a great job as an assistant coach at Wyoming. He has a bright future. It’ll be good to see him.”
One more tournament in Lawrence wraps up the non-conference slate. This time Kansas will welcome South Dakota State, Gonzaga and Missouri State to the HFAC. Under new head coach Nicole Cirillo, SDSU will play KU for the third time in program history. Last fall, Gonzaga recorded its most wins in the last 20 years (17-12) and welcomes back All-American senior Savannah Blinn to lead a veteran team. Missouri State will serve as KU’s Saturday night opponent and posted 20 wins for the 15th time in the last 16 years in 2014.
“Missouri State is a great team from the Valley (Missouri Valley Conference), they are always hanging around the top of their league,” Bechard started. “Gonzaga wouldn’t be coming here if (head coach Dave Gantt) didn’t feel like he had a great group. I don’t know quite as much about South Dakota State, they have kind of a new staff and they have great volleyball history. We’ll have a great opportunity to get our mind right and get our game right to head into conference play.”
Kansas has climbed its way up to the top-three among the Big 12 for three-straight years, but Bechard has been adamant in reminding his team that there are no guarantees of staying there. Before they can start thinking about an unprecedented four-straight NCAA Tournament runs, all of the Jayhawks’ focus goes into keeping pace in the conference. Three different teams hired new coaches, continuously raising the bar for a league that ranked No. 2 in the RPI for the last three seasons. Texas, a 2014 Final Four team, led the five NCAA bids for the league. All five of those teams: Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Kansas, ended their seasons in the top-30 of the RPI.
“The league will not disappoint,” Bechard said. “We’ve got three new coaches in the conference this year, one of them just changed schools. There was a lot of upgrading going on by administrations across the conference. I expect Baylor, West Virginia and TCU to see a real positive jump. Those are three schools that finished toward the bottom part of the standings in the league and now they are all going to fight to get into that top half. It will be extremely competitive every time out.”
Horejsi will be rocking right out of the gate as Kansas opens the 2015 Big 12 slate against rival Kansas State on Sept. 23. KU swept the Wildcats in Manhattan in their last meeting for just the fourth time in what will be a 40-year history this season.
“We play kind of a fun opener at home against K-State that first Wednesday,” Bechard smiled. “The Big 12 didn’t pull any punches, ‘Let’s get this thing going right away.’ So here we go.”
KU hits the road to face TCU (Sept. 26), a squad that rallied for a five-set win against the Jayhawks in Fort Worth last season. Now coached by former West Virginia head coach Jill Kramer, the Horned Frogs will be even stronger in 2015. Speaking of, the Jayhawks will return home to host West Virginia (Oct. 3) in the following outing. Like TCU, the Mountaineers also finished above .500 in 2014 yet both are under new leadership. Reed Sunahara took over at WVU after stints with USA Volleyball and Cincinnati, most recently.
The Jayhawks stay on a steady diet of swapping home then away matchups when they travel to Texas Tech (Oct. 7) and back to Lawrence for an always-classic meeting with Iowa State (Oct. 10). The Cyclones have received nine-straight NCAA Tournament bids and tied KU for second place in the league last fall. Looking to get back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011, Baylor is also under new management. Now led by former Florida State associate head coach Ryan McGuyre, the Bears will take on KU for the first time in Waco (Oct. 14).
KU then gets Oklahoma (Oct. 21), which will venture back to Lawrence for the first time since the epic Senior Day match that saw KU come back to win in five. Along with ISU, the Sooners also tied the Jayhawks for second place in the conference standings in 2014.
When Kansas gets back-to-back road games for the first time in the conference season, the combo is a brutal one. KU will visit Austin and four-time defending Big 12 champion Texas (Oct. 23) before starting the second half of the conference season at Iowa State (Oct. 28). Since 1982, the Longhorns have missed the NCAA Tournament only twice and have advanced to the Final Four in each of the last three years.
“We started off last year 0-3 in conference play, so we climbed from the very bottom to second place,” Bechard said. “I don’t think we give our team enough credit for that. That’s noteworthy, but to stay in the top two or three in this league is a heck of a lot harder. All the work you do can be gone if you don’t pay attention. You can fall quickly – you can be a good team and do that. We’re going to show up each and every time knowing that we have to be well-prepared, we have to work hard and we will see a great team across the net every night.”
On Halloween, Kansas welcomes Baylor to Lawrence and travels to Norman, Oklahoma (Nov. 7) after a midweek bye. A little more than two weeks separate KU’s first meeting with Texas and its second (Nov. 11), where the Longhorns are likely to meet a sold-out Horejsi crowd. That match marked the highest attended last fall.
TCU (Nov. 14) comes to town next, marking KU’s only back-to-back home matches of the conference schedule. The Jayhawks double-up on road trips at West Virginia (Nov. 21) and at Kansas State (Nov. 25) before a Senior Day meeting with Texas Tech (Nov. 28).
“It took us a while, then we got rolling, then we took a little break – we just want to be good all the time,” Bechard said of his tenure at Kansas. “It’s hard. You’re going to have recruiting mistakes and near-misses. If you come in second in recruiting, you might as well take last. If we can sustain for another year, I think we’re starting to show that we are going to be around at this level for a while. We’re not going to be up and down. In my first 10 or 12 years here, half the time we were pretty good and half the time we weren’t where we needed to be. We’ve developed a pretty good culture and tradition over the last two or three years. Kansas is becoming more of a name that people think of when they think of Division I volleyball.”
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