Kansas Releases Tough 2013 Volleyball Schedule
LAWRENCE, Kan. â€“Â Prepped to build on the momentum created by a highlight-reel 2012 season, Kansas volleyball’s tough 2013 schedule includes 14 matches against teams that played in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, head coachÂ Ray BechardÂ announced Monday.
The schedule includes home-and-home matches against defending national champion Texas and three other Big 12 teams that reached the NCAA’s last season â€“ Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma. In addition the Jayhawks will face Notre Dame, Arkansas twice, Creighton, Central Arkansas and Bowling Green, all of whom played in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Four of those teams also appeared on the AVCA’s final 2012 Top-25 poll, which ranked Kansas at No. 25. Tough road matches at Arizona from the Pac-12 and Wisconsin from the Big Ten â€“ the nation’s highest-rated conference in 2012 â€“ also highlight the schedule.
“We think we have settled on a schedule that we hope will be beneficial and prepare us to face a very competitive Big 12,” Bechard said. “Arizona is an extremely competitive Pac-12 opponent, then Wisconsin from the Big Ten and other road matches at Creighton, Arkansas and UMKC will all present solid challenges. Then we have the opportunity to host Georgia, Notre Dame and North Dakota State. So the travel part of it, I think if we can handle to first two weeks when we’re on the road quite a bit and learn from that, then I’m excited for the momentum that could potentially build.”
Kansas finished 26-7 in 2012, marking the best winning percentage for a season in program history. Climbing to program bests in the AVCA poll rankings (No. 17) and NCAA RPI projections (No. 6), the Jayhawks finished third in the Big 12 Conference standings, sweeping top-25 Kansas State and Oklahoma in the season series and nabbing wins from nationally-ranked Iowa State, Creighton and Tulsa. Bechard and the Jayhawks were rewarded with a No. 11 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted the First and Second Rounds inside Allen Fieldhouse.Â
Returning nearly all of its starting lineup from a year ago and equipped with nine seniors on the roster, Kansas is poised and ready to accept the challenges the 2013 schedule has in store.Â
“We’re a more veteran team now, with the large group of seniors we have,” Bechard said. “This isn’t a schedule that you’d want a young, inexperienced team to face. With the numbers we have returning, I think it gives us a chance to manage it, hopefully grow from it and become the type of team that we want to be as the year progresses.”Â
Kansas will play nine of its first 10 matches on the road, tipping off the 2013 season at the Arizona Invitational, Aug. 30-31. Playing in one of the most dominant conferences in Division I volleyball, Arizona went 8-12 in league play and 16-15 overall last year.Â
The Jayhawks will kick off the year in Tucson against an underrated powerhouse in Central Arkansas. The Sugar Bears were one of seven teams in the country to post 30 wins in 2012, finishing the year with a loss to Washington in the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance after tying for the Southland Conference regular-season title and winning the league tournament. Following that match, KU will face Morgan State on Aug. 31 before the weekend finale with Arizona.Â
KU will stay on the road, heading to UMKC on Sept. 3 for a Tuesday night match. Led by former longtime Kansas assistant, Christi Posey, the ‘Roos went 16-13 in 2012. The Jayhawks then begin a home-and-home series with Arkansas, playing on Sept. 5 in Fayetteville, Ark., and then welcoming the Razorbacks to Lawrence for the home opener on Sept. 7.Â
This will mark the second-straight year that the SEC-Big 12 foes have found themselves in each other’s territory. KU played at the Arkansas Invitational last fall, and the Razorbacks were sent to Lawrence for the NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds last season. Heading into 2013, Arkansas’ recruiting class is ranked 16thÂ best in the country by PrepVolleyball.com, the highest-ranked incoming class in the SEC.Â
Kansas keeps the intensity rolling with a road contest at Creighton on Sept. 10. The 2012 Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champion was ranked No. 24 in the final AVCA poll. KU was one of only four teams to hand the 29-4 Bluejays a loss last fall.Â
Next is the Inntowner Invitational in Madison, Wis., Sept. 13-14. Aside from the Big Ten’s Wisconsin, the Jayhawks will face Milwaukee and Bowling Green during the weekend. KU and Wisconsin will play the Friday primetime match, featuring brand new Badger coach Kelly Sheffield in his first season in Madison after a successful stint at Dayton. This is yet another tough road tournament: Wisconsin’s recruiting class is ranked fourth by PrepVolleyball.com, while Bowling Green is the defending Mid-American Conference (MAC) Champion.Â
The Jayhawks return from the road to host their only pre-conference tournament, Sept. 20-22. That Friday, KU will take on Georgia from the SEC and the Summit League’s North Dakota State. Kansas will not play on Sat., Sept. 21, but will play Sunday in the tournament finale against Notre Dame at 1 p.m. The Fighting Irish hosted KU at the Golden Dome Invitational last fall and went on to finish 20-10 with an NCAA Tournament berth.Â
An exhibition match will provide the final tune-up before the Jayhawks start conference play, but the unique opponent will provide plenty of challenge. The Italian U-23 National Team has scheduled five matches in the United States this fall and will travel to Lawrence on Sept. 25.Â
“We thought that would be a really neat opportunity for our team as well as our fans to see a group of really talented players from another country,” Bechard said. “It’s a little bit of a break, since it’s an exhibition match it won’t count toward our wins and losses, so we’ll utilize that in a way to prepare for Big 12 play to start. I think it comes at a good time for us.”Â
With defending National Champion Texas on the schedule twice, a grueling non-conference schedule is necessary to prepare the Jayhawks for what awaits them in Big 12 play. Â
“That was our goal, to get ourselves ready for conference,” Bechard said. “At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm our kids prior to a really competitive Big 12 situation. But if you don’t go on the road and see some really good teams and don’t put your team in a situation to experience that (before Big 12 play), then that’s not fair to anybody.”Â
Kansas opens the Big 12 slate at home against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 28, before jumping into the first Sunflower Showdown match of the season on the road at Kansas State on Oct. 2. KU’s sweep of the top-25 Wildcats last season included a come-from-behind win in Manhattan. KSU, which received votes in the final 2012 AVCA poll, returns the trip on Saturday, Nov. 16.Â
Following the K-State road match, KU heads to Waco, Texas, to meet Baylor on Oct. 5. The teams split the series last year as each team won on its home court. The pair meets for the second time on Oct. 30 in Lawrence.Â
Returning home, KU will host fellow 2012 NCAA Tournament team Oklahoma on Oct. 9 and will stay there to bring in Texas on Oct. 12. The nation’s best team a year ago, Texas finished its National Championship season with a 29-4 record and a 15-1 mark in conference play. The Jayhawks make their way to Austin, Texas on Nov. 9.Â
Back-to-back road matches at Texas Tech (Oct. 16) and West Virginia (Oct. 19) pave the way for KU’s first meeting of the year with volleyball powerhouse Iowa State on Oct. 23. Ranked No. 14 on the final AVCA poll last season, the Cyclones advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. KU concludes the season series in Ames, Iowa on Nov. 20.Â
In the final weeks of the regular season, Kansas will face Texas (Nov. 9), Kansas State (Nov. 16) and Iowa State (Nov. 20) in an 11-day span before a special Senior Day on Nov. 23 vs. Texas Tech. Although it’s not the last home match of the season, the Jayhawks have opted for a weekend Senior Day.Â KU’s nine-member senior class will be honored prior to and after the match against the Red Raiders.Â
After Senior Day, the Jayhawks will play one more regular-season match at home â€“ Â against Denver on Nov. 26. The 2013 regular season will close in Norman, Okla., when Kansas heads south to face Oklahoma on Nov. 30.Â
“From top to bottom, this schedule should really test us and that’s something we’re looking forward to,” Bechard said.Â
Bechard and the Jayhawks will continue to host team and skills camps throughout the summer before officially reporting for practice on Aug. 10.Â
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