2014 Volleyball Season Outlook: Outside Hitters

2014 Season Outlook: Outside Hitters
Chelsea Albers, Sr.  6-1
Sara McClinton, Sr. 6-2
Tiana Dockery, Jr. 5-10
Madison Rigdon, Fr. 6-0
Catherine Carmichael 6-2

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Picked second in the 2014 Big 12 Conference Preseason Poll, Kansas finished the 2013 campaign ranked 17th on the national poll and will open this fall with the 15th-best recruiting class in the country. The outside hitters begin the first of a four-part series to preview the season.
The strength of the outside hitters will play a large role in the Jayhawks’ transition from being a veteran team in 2013 to being a young team in 2014. One of many bright sides to the shift, despite losing seven seniors, KU returns 80 percent of its kills from last season – thanks in large part to the outside hitters.
Kansas has only three upperclassmen on the roster, but the complete trio resides in this group. Together, they have totaled nearly 2,000 kills and 500 blocks between them in All-American seniors Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton and junior outside hitter Tiana Dockery.
“A lot of times the last swing is going to be someone taking it on the outside,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “I know Sara has taken a ton of swings to end a match and so have Chelsea and Dock. They’ll have to carry some volume of how we score. Our last two years about 35 percent of our offense was going through our middles, which is high. There might be times this year where it’s not quite that high. We are very comfortable with the pin players getting the higher number of swings, but we have to stay balanced on offense. Our middles will be our key in how that comes along.”
Albers finished second on the team with seven double-doubles last season (kills/digs) and tied for the team lead in double-digit kills performances (20). Fiercely competitive and versatile, Albers became the first Jayhawk to surpass the 300+ kills, 200+ digs and 100+ blocks in a season since 1993.
McClinton, Albers’ senior counterpart, is known for her big swing and putting the ball away late in the game. However, after back-to-back summers of playing abroad, McClinton is also working toward becoming a multi-faceted player. She led the team with 3.13 kills per set last season and starts the year just 45 kills shy of the 1,000-career milestone.
“Chelsea was our best player in the NCAA Tournament and Sara had maybe the best performance of the year last year at Baylor,” Bechard said. “But they both missed matches (with injury), too. We can’t afford to have one of them out, let alone two of them out. They are both focused on having a great year and playing at a high level.”
The only newcomer to the group, Rigdon will immediately vie for playing time. A 6-foot, six-rotation player, she was named a Senior Ace by PrepVolleyball.com and holds the career records at Pflugerville High School in kills (1,375) and aces (229).
“This is a really quality group, we just have to keep them healthy. What I like about them is Dockery, Rigdon and Albers have extensive six-rotation experience. I know that Sara, this spring and this summer, also gained in that area. That’s important and will give us more flexibility.”
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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