2013 Volleyball Season Outlook: Middle Blockers

Player Preview – Caroline Jarmoc
Returning: RS Sr. Caroline Jarmoc
Gained: RS Fr. Janae Hall, Fr. Emma Hanson, Fr. Tayler Soucie
Key Losses: Tayler Tolefree, Jessie Allen
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In the first of a four-part series, the 2013 Kansas volleyball season outlook begins with an in-depth look at the middle blockers.
Led by the reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year, Ray Bechard, and with more than 80 percent of its high-powered offense returning from last fall, Kansas was honored with its first preseason ranking on Aug. 12. The Jayhawks checked in at No. 20 on the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I Preseason Poll.
Voted to finish third in the 2013 Big 12 Conference Preseason Poll, its highest preseason conference selection, Kansas finished the season ranked No. 25 on the final 2012 AVCA poll and posted the highest winning percentage for a season (.788) in program history. Yet, Bechard and the Jayhawks know they have plenty of work to do if this team has aspirations of following a similar path in 2013.
“It’s exciting and appreciated,” Bechard said of the national attention. “But it goes back to us needing to focus on the task at hand and our own expectations that we set for ourselves, not what others set for us. With a veteran team, we have the opportunity for success this year, but that doesn’t come if you don’t take of business. Where we are at the end of the season means much more to me than where we are to start it.” 
The Jayhawks went 26-7 overall last fall and 12-4 in the league standings for a third-place finish, their highest in the Big 12 era. Earning its first national seed in the NCAA Tournament at No. 11, Kansas hosted the first and second rounds inside Allen Fieldhouse before succumbing in the second round to Wichita State, who checks in at No. 24 on the preseason poll.
Armed with the first All-American in program history returning for her senior season, the Jayhawks look to be the most set at the middle blocking position. Though redshirt senior Caroline Jarmoc is in position to lead her team as a fifth-year senior, the middle crew is actually the least experienced of the 2013 roster.
When Tayler Tolefree completed her career last fall, she left her name scattered throughout the KU record books, in part for her accurate attacking numbers and primarily for her presence at the net. With Jarmoc at the M-1 position, Tolefree played a skilled M-2 role, making the duo one of the most veteran and threatening in the Big 12 Conference. Together, Jarmoc and Tolefree finished the season ranked in the top-10 among the league’s blocking numbers, with both registering more than a full block per set.
While Tolefree was a source of consistency in the box score, she was valued even more for her quiet but respected leadership role. Her style of play and command complimented Jarmoc’s flawlessly. Now with Tolefree on the sidelines rather than the court, Bechard knows one of his biggest challenges lies in filling her spot.
Luckily for the Jayhawks, a plan is in place. Since hiring assistant coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn, who works primarily with the middles, Bechard has watched his team’s blocking numbers soar to the top-three in the Big 12 for each of her first two seasons. In 2012, the Jayhawks racked up 2.62 blocks per set, good for second in the conference and 31st in the NCAA.
Although Janae Hall checks in as a newcomer, 2013 marks her second year with the program as the Centennial, Colo., native utilized a redshirt last year. A year of guidance from “Bird” as well as Tolefree already has Hall in a solid position to contribute in her debut season. A member of the 2011 USA Girls Youth National Team that competed at the World Youth Championships in Anarka, Turkey and ranked No. 67 on PrepVolleyball.com’s Top-100 Senior Aces in her last year at Regis Jesuit High School, Hall will vie to put those accolades to the test this fall.
Competing and learning alongside her is true freshman Tayler Soucie. The Osawatomie, Kan., native joins her brother Brendan – a senior on the KU track team – at Kansas and comes in ready to challenge for immediate playing time. At 6-1, Soucie’s frame looks every bit of the state champion hurdler she was at Osawatomie High School and her speed seconds that. Arguably the quickest middle on the floor in 2013, Soucie led the nation with 779 kills as a senior last fall.
Bechard acknowledges the long list of strengths for the duo and plans to use both of their talent sets as they push each other for a starting role. True freshman Emma Hanson will shift from her outside hitter role at Sioux Falls Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., to a middle blocker with the possibility of right-side duties, adding more depth to the position. Together, the young squad has the potential to play like veterans with Jarmoc leading the charge.
Head coach Ray Bechard
On the middle blockers:
“(Tayler) Tolefree leaves a void in a lot of ways, but we’re going to challenge Janae (Hall), we’re going to challenge Tayler Soucie, another ‘T,’ which will be fun. Also, Emma (Hanson) isn’t afraid to step up in that position if need be. That’s a lot of expectation to put on two first-year players, but they are special competitors and special athletes and I think they will be capable of doing a good job at the M-2 spot. Obviously, at the M-1 – (Caroline) Jarmoc is going to be everybody’s game plan on the other side. She’s going to have to get creative and play at an even higher level to keep the same type of statistical impact on our team, and she’s focused and ready to do that.”
On the freshmen competing for the second middle position:
“In the middle, Janae plays a  where we don’t have as much depth as we’ve had in the past. Even though our redshirts (Hall and Maggie Anderson) are considered Jayhawks since they already have a year of experience, we’re excited about them now competing for playing time. Janae and Tayler Soucie combined are going to have to create a Tayler Tolefree for us in the middle and I think they have it in them. Soucie is dynamic and quick, although a little undersized for her position, but in our evaluations of her this summer, we know that she’s going to work as hard as anybody.”
Kansas head coaches Ray Bechard, Mark Francis and Stanley Redwine will preview the 2013 seasons for volleyball, soccer and cross country at the fall sports media day on Aug. 21 at 1:30 p.m. inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room. Select student-athletes from each team will also be made available to speak with the media following the coaches. Lunch will be provided for those media members in attendance
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