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LAWRENCE, Kan. – A veteran head coaching trio took to the podium inside Hadl Auditorium to discuss the upcoming volleyball, cross country and in-action soccer seasons. While the longest-ranking official, 18-year head volleyball coach, Ray Bechard, did the talking at the mic, juniors Tayler Soucie and Cassie Wait and senior Tiana Dockery were on hand to represent the 2015 volleyball squad.
 Tayler Soucie, Tiana Dockery and Cassie Wait
checked out the stellar new media guide.Three starters and the libero return from a 2014 team that ended the year 22-9, giving KU three-straight 20-win seasons for the first time since 1980-81-82. Kansas overcame an 0-3 conference start last season only to storm back for a second-place finish. With three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances to their credit, the Jayhawks are looking to make the postseason for an unprecedented fourth-consecutive year.
KU kicks off the 2015 season against Army on Aug. 28 at the Arkansas Tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Head coach Ray Bechard
On the excitement of fall approaching:
“We are 14 or 15 practices in and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the gym. We are well on our way to figuring out the team that we want to be and have great goals for the team we think we can be. I’m excited about this fall season starting and I know Coach Francis has high expectations for his team as does cross country and track and field, which is one of the most highly-regarded programs in the country. I’m excited about our new football coaching staff, how accessible they have been and how supportive they are with what we are trying to do. Entering my 18th year, I feel better about the entire group of coaches I’m working with than any of the time that I’ve been here. It’s exciting to be part of that. Even though it is the 18th year, I’ve got to tell you that I still feel extremely privileged and honored to be in charge of this volleyball program. I take that responsibility very seriously each and every day. Thanks for coming.”
On preseason camp:
“We did get started on August 10 and have a little momentum, once again, from the last season into the next one. We’re talking about ‘Unprecedented,’ meaning that this could be the first team to go to four-straight NCAA Tournaments. Tiana Dockery could be the first player in Kansas volleyball history to have the opportunity to play in all four NCAA Tournaments of her career. When you start talking about players playing in the NCAA Tournament for their entire career, then you start to develop some momentum within your program, start to develop tradition and you start to build your brand. That’s very important for us, as we come off a really nice season last year, to continue to do that. For that to happen, obviously, a lot of things have to take place.”
On the schedule:
“We’ve got a very competitive pre-conference schedule in front of us. We open up at Arkansas. They are going to be a top-25 team, in my opinion. We will also see Army and McNeese State there. We come home to host a Duke team that has been top one or two in the ACC in the last four or five years and is a top-25 team nationally. We’ll also play a KU volleyball ex-assistant coach Christi Posey and the amazing job she’s doing at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC), who won their conference last year. They have everybody back. The third weekend is on the road at the University of Wyoming. They invited us up there for one reason – they feel like they can beat us. They have a roster that can do that. You don’t hear a lot about Marquette and Northern Colorado in volleyball, but UNC has been the class of their league in the last six to eight years, as has Marquette. Then we close out with our last home tournament. We bring in Gonzaga, who is going to be one of the favorites in their conference and Missouri State will be here, too, another conference favorite in the Missouri Valley. Then it gets easier, we get in the Big 12 (sarcasm). We’ve got a host of teams who feel like they can be in the top two or three in the league. We’ve got one team that thinks it can win the national championship, but then we’ve got a bunch of others that not only think they can get into the NCAA Tournament, but advance deep into it. We’ve had a lot of coaching changes in the league. We’ve had some upgrades. We had a huge influx of transfers into our league. We’ve benefitted from that with two young ladies, but other programs have as well. People are realizing the Big 12 is the place to be and we’re looking forward to that.”
On the 2015 roster:
“We’ve got a roster that is equipped to handle the pre-conference schedule and the Big 12 opportunity that is in front of us. At our outside hitter position, we bring back a three-year starter in Tiana Dockery, a part-time starter last year in Madison Rigdon and a Wichita State transfer, Ashlyn Driskill, who has had a really good preseason so far. We’ve got newcomers in that position. Ashley Smith is a freshman from Las Vegas who has had great moments in practice. She is still catching up with the speed of the game, but she is going to do great things. Patricia Montero is another freshman. If we’ve had one setback in the last couple months, it was Patricia sustaining a knee injury while playing for Puerto Rican national team in a match in Canada. She will not be able to participate with us this fall. She’s been here all summer and had the injury repaired by our own people, and she is well on her way to recovering. It’s unfortunate because we felt like she would have been a pretty heavy contributor, but she will have four great years left after this one.
“Kelsie Payne is kind of our wild card. She can play a little bit of left side, a little bit of right side and played middle blocker extensively last year. We’re moving her around a little bit as she gives us great flexibility in that position. She can dominate matches when she wants to with her athleticism and her length. In our middle blocker position, we return everybody. Tayler Soucie led the Big 12 in blocks last year and had a great sophomore season. Janae Hall along with Kayla Cheadle also played extensively in that position last year. We’re looking forward to that group being solid in production and numbers.
“In the setter position, freshman starter last year Ainise Havili is now a sophomore after leading the Big 12 in assists last year. She is doing an outstanding job of running the show. Maggie Anderson, who would be a starter at a lot of other programs, is a back-up setter for us and a serving specialist. You talk about someday that gets after it every day, trains hard and communicates at the highest level, it’s her. That position is the strength of our team.
“At libero, we return Cassie Wait. Cassie took over for Brianne Riley a year ago and we didn’t miss a beat. She’s done things that we’ve never had anybody else in that position do. She’s moving into her junior season with a year of that position under her belt. She’s someone that is going to play extremely well at that position for us. We have great depth at the defensive specialist position. We return sophomores Addison Barry, Claire Carpenter and Tori Miller and add Saint Louis University transfer Anna Church, who was a three-year starter in that position for SLU. That group of seven freshmen last year are sophomores now, so we have a lot of playing experience back. Plus, if you think about that European trip we took to play seven matches and get a couple weeks’ worth of training, I think that springboarded us into a great fall.”
The Jayhawks will then host the Crimson and Blue alumni match on Saturday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m., inside the Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The event is free and open to the public.
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