2014 Volleyball Season Outlook: Defensive Specialists and Liberos

2014 Season Outlook: DS/Liberos
Cassie Wait, So. 5-8
Addison Barry, Fr. 5-4
Claire Carpenter, Fr. 5-9
Tori Miller, Fr. 5-8
Jaime Mathieu 5-0
Brianne Riley 5-6
Amy Wehrs 5-10

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas begins the year ranked No. 22 on the AVCA preseason poll, the second-straight season that the Jayhawks garnered early national attention. Combined with the 2014 preseason ranking, the Jayhawks have appeared on the poll for the last 12-consecutive weeks. The third of a four-part series previews the defensive specialists and liberos.
Like most of KU’s positions groups this season, the defensive specialists and liberos are led by a sophomore veteran. This time it’s the athletically-gifted Cassie Wait and a trio of freshmen, which will both support and challenge her on the back row.
Graduation last May also took an iconic player from this group, KU’s all-time digs leader Brianne Riley. The only player in program history to collect more than 2,000 career digs (2,053, 4th all-time on the Big 12 list) Riley was most valuable as Bechard’s top communicator. Although her presence, and all of last year’s seniors’ presence, will be missed, Bechard came to a stout realization.
“I learned early on that you can’t make comparisons – that I’ve got to let Brianne Riley go,” Bechard said. “Cassie is going to play far different and I was reminded of that this spring. I finally told Cassie to just do what you do. We have to appreciate those seniors for what they did, but we’ve got to understand that we’ve got different personalities and styles now. I think we can reference some of those traits and why they were successful, but Tori Miller needs to be Tori Miller, Claire Carpenter needs to be Claire Carpenter, Addie needs to be Addie and so on.”
The only returner of the group, Wait made the most of her time learning under Riley and fellow starter Jaime Mathieu last season. While Riley led the team with 555 digs and Mathieu was second with 292, Wait came in right behind them with 229 in her first true season as a defensive specialist.
A year ago, Wait was one of the most decorated local kids to join the program, highlighted by accolades like the Kansas City Star 2013 Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the 2013 6A Player of the Year, a member of the Under Armour Girls High School All-America First Team and the 2013 Kansas Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year.
“We think Cassie has a pretty good chance at the libero spot, but a couple of those kids have got to emerge, as well,” Bechard said. “The fact that we have outsides that can play six rotations takes a little bit of pressure off of this position. At the same time, we need those three to make that jump to the collegiate level pretty quickly.”
Addison Barry, Claire Carpenter and Tori Miller plan to do exactly that. The Centennial League MVP at Hayden High School (Topeka, Kansas), Barry comes in as the most experienced defensive specialist of the freshman class. Carpenter spent time on the right side at Rockwall Heath High School (Rockwall, Texas) and was the 12A-5 Setter of the Year last fall. Miller was the 2013 Female Athlete of the Year at Derby High School (Derby, Kansas) and led her team in kills and aces as a senior.
“Cassie is our sophomore veteran of that group, but you’ve got a group of kids who love to play,” Bechard said. “They are volleyball junkies. Claire understands how the game works because she’s set and she’s hit. Tori has hit, too. It’s cool to have a kid with those different perspectives playing that position. Addie actually set for her high school team, as well, so they are all pretty well-rounded.”
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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