Havili Named Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Hot off her trip to Guatemala with the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team (WJNT), incoming setter Ainise Havili was honored with Kansas volleyball’s first Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year recognition, announced by the conference Thursday.
In addition to the program’s first specialty award, three Jayhawks were named to the Big 12 Preseason Team for the second-straight season. Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton makes her second appearance on the list, while fellow senior outside Chelsea Albers also made the team. Both were All-Big 12 First Team honorees last season and were awarded AVCA All-America Honorable Mention accolades. Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie earned preseason recognition for the first time, as well.
“It’s a reflection of a highly talented class, we have a lot of talented people coming in,” Bechard said. “I know she’s ready to get in the gym and start playing, be a good teammate and hopefully be a good contributor to what we’re trying to do here. The fact that she had a strong club career and that she was involved with USA Volleyball this summer are probably things that you look at. The Preseason Freshman of the Year is the most difficult award to vote on because there are so many unknowns.”
From Haltom City, Texas, and ranked No. 39 on PrepVolleyball’s Senior Aces, Havili signed with the Jayhawks in November. Havili led her 17U TAV Club to the National Championship last fall, earning Tournament MVP honors in the process, under the direction of club coach Ping Cao. She will immediately contend for a starting position as the Jayhawks look to fill the hole left by the graduation of Erin McNorton, the 2013 Big 12 Setter of the Year.
Last month, Havili was named one of two setters on the U.S Women’s Junior National Team (WJNT) that won gold at the NORCECA Women’s U-20 Continental Championship in Guatemala. A humble and soft-spoken player, Havili was shocked to make the 12-player WJNT roster. Thursday’s announcement caught the Jayhawk rookie off guard, as well.
“I’m speechless. I just got here,” Havili said. “It’s an honor to be thought of that way. I’m just really excited to start playing and to try to prove that in an actual game.”
The Kansas trio that joins Havili on the Big 12 Preseason Team have enjoyed plenty of opportunities to prove their status.
“The initial selection of the preseason awards are great, but the ability to maintain that high level of performance over time is what we are looking for,” Bechard said. “A lot of that is a reflection of the success that they had, and our team had, last fall.”
Coming off back-to-back All-Big 12 First team seasons, McClinton will look to go 2-for-2 on converting Big 12 Preseason Team accolades into Big 12 First Team honors at the end of the year. She led the Jayhawks with 3.13 kills per set in 2013 and starts her senior year just 45 kills shy of the 1,000 career mark.
One of the most versatile players on the floor last season, Albers cranked out 35 kills in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament to help lead Kansas to its first Sweet 16 in program history. She finished the 2013 season with 339 kills, 293 digs and 110 blocks, making her the first Jayhawk to post the impressive 300-kill, 200-dig, 100-block season since former standout Cyndee Kanabel did so in 1993 (367 kills, 283 digs, 110 blocks).
Soucie stepped into a big spot next to two-time All-American Caroline Jarmoc last season to lead the Jayhawks with 1.19 blocks per set, putting her in the top-10 in the league all season. Additionally, Soucie broke the KU freshman record for blocks in a season (135) and led the team with a .339 attack percentage. She was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and earned the AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year title.
The Kansas volleyball team reports to campus on Aug. 8 and will start its preseason camp the following day. KU will host its annual Crimson and Blue match on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 1 p.m., inside the Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The event is free and open to the public.
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