2014 Volleyball Season Outlook: Middle Blockers

2014 Season Outlook: Middle Blockers
Janae Hall, So. 6-1
Tayler Soucie, So. 6-1
Kayla Cheadle, Fr. 6-1
Kelsie Payne, Fr. 6-3
Caroline Jarmoc 6-2

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas captured its best conference finish (second) a year ago and racked up back-to-back 25-win seasons for the first time since 1977-78. For two years running, KU has been in the top-15 in the RPI, held a national overall seed come NCAA Tournament time and has hosted the first and second rounds inside Allen Fieldhouse. The second of a four-part series previews the middle blockers.
With all three upperclassmen belonging to the outside hitting crew, a sophomore will take the leadership role of the middle blockers. Luckily, this sophomore is a powerhouse. AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year, Tayler Soucie, returns after one of the most successful freshman seasons in program history. She broke the rookie record for blocks in a debut season (135) and led the team with a .339 attack percentage and 1.19 kills per set. Her work landed her not only the AVCA regional honors, but also spots on the 2013 Big 12 All-Freshman Team and the 2014 Big 12 Preseason Team.
“Tayler Soucie had a breakout year, but I think her role will be a little different this year as Caroline Jarmoc and others took some of the pressure off of her,” Bechard said. “Now she will be our most experienced middle. We’ve got a couple of kids right now whose athleticism might be above their technical response, but the depth is great. We have options there.”
Bechard brings up a point that cannot go unnoticed as the middle blockers focus on moving forward without Caroline Jarmoc for the first time in five years. A two-time All-American, the team’s kills leader for the last two seasons and the program record holder in career blocks (555) and attack percentage (.327), Kansas will undoubtedly have a different look.
“I know we will have teams look at us and be glad that Jarmoc is gone,” Bechard said. “But if you’re going to build a program and have a competitive culture year after year then someone has to step into that role. I’m confident in Kayla Cheadle, Janae Hall, Kelsie Payne and Tayler Soucie. That group might not be the initial strength of our team, but they could transition into that before the end of the year.”
Soucie may not be as vocal as Jarmoc in her leadership role, but give it time. Coming in to 2014 riding major momentum, Soucie is fired up to get her counterparts up to speed. Experience combined with incoming talent has endless potential with this position. Hailing from Austin, Texas, Payne comes to Kansas following two-straight District MVP honors. At 6-3, she is the tallest on the roster and has the athleticism to match. Cheadle joins her in the middle and comes from another well-known (former) Big 12 town, Columbia, Missouri. She helped her Rock Bridge High School squad to a 33-3 record last year. Both will bring immediate impact to the middle-blocking core regardless of their youth. 
Hall, a redshirt freshman a year ago, comes back for her sophomore season healthier than ever. She saw time in 11 matches last year, recording 20 kills and 13 blocks. Together, the foursome is locked in on making sure KU’s blocking presence in the Big 12 doesn’t change. For the last three seasons, KU has had at least two players ranked among the top-10 blockers in the league. Despite their youth, Soucie and Co., plan to continue the trend.
“Soucie has always been responsible for making things work, whether it be at her high school or club,” Bechard said. “So I think last year had its frustrating moments for her, with so much experience around her. Her voice will come through more this year, but what’s important about her is that she will want these other kids to have a voice, too. That’s part of what makes her a good leader.”
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.
KUAthletics.com: The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.