Volleyball Welcomes Coverage on Fall Sports Media Day
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Aside from challenging everyone in attendance to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge to support the ALS Foundation, head volleyball coach Ray Bechard had one more thing to note before he started Kansas Athletics Fall Sports Media Day. He told the reporters how pleased he was with the media turnout on Thursday afternoon inside Hadl Auditorium.
Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard
“We’re 19 practices in, about two weeks, and we’ve got a group that’s working extremely hard. There are obviously a lot of new faces. We’ve got seven returners and seven newcomers. So there’s been good and bad in that. There is a lot of new energy and a lot of ‘want to.’ A lot of stopping and explaining, and going through what we want to get done from a technique effort. But we’ve got plenty of experience to lead the way.
“By position, Maggie Anderson‘s done a great job at taking Ainise Havili under her wing. We’ve probably got our most experience on the outside hitter position, where we have starters back in Sara McClinton, Chelsea Albers and Tiana Dockery. They’ve been very resourceful for newcomer Madison Rigdon. Cassie Wait is returning as our libero/ defensive specialist. We’re very young at that position, but she’s done a great job mentoring newcomers Claire Carpenter, Addison Barry and Tori Miller. In the middle blocker position, we have Tayler Soucie back and Janae Hall and they’ve been great with newcomers Kayla Cheadle and Kelsie Payne. So we have seven that left us and seven that came in. We’re excited about the experience we bring back and the newcomers that are here with us.
“You might consider us pretty inexperienced because we have 11 freshmen and sophomores, but we have a picture on our team notebooks of the match point against Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16 and Soucie is in that picture, Dockery is in that picture, Wait is in that picture and Albers is in that picture. So we had four underclassmen on the floor at match point in that critical time. So we have enough players back who have played extensive minutes and understand what it’s like to play in high-level matches, not only at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas, but other places throughout the country. I know they’re going to do a great job of mentoring the newcomers coming in as we try to continue the momentum we’ve developed over the last couple of years. We want that momentum to turn into a volleyball culture and that volleyball culture to turn into a volleyball tradition. This is a group that can certainly do that.
“We’ve bitten off a pretty significant pre-conference schedule. We open up a week from tomorrow (8/29) with Utah Valley and Lipscomb. Then we have Creighton on Saturday. Creighton is the most noticeable team in that they have everybody returning from a team that was one match away from a Sweet 16. Lipscomb is going to be a 25-to-27-win team, probably, and Utah Valley is going to be in the top couple teams of their league. We go to Denver, we play good teams. We go to Villanova, we see Yale and American. Both teams advanced deep in the NCAA tournament last year. We’ll play Penn State, defending national champion. We’ll see Villanova there and return home to play the likes of Arkansas and Cleveland State. So we’ve got plenty going on before we start our league. Once we do, everybody’s chasing Texas as they have for the last couple of years. They have a chance once again to advance deep into postseason, and I know he feels, coach (Jerritt) Elliot, has a team that can win a national championship, but there’s a ton of teams in the league that feel like they can compete at a high level. The top of our league is going to be very good again but you can’t sleep on the teams that finished fifth through ninth last year because they’ve got tons of kids returning. They’ve got good players coming in, and they’re putting a lot of resources into their programs. So this will be the most competitive from top to bottom league that we’ve had in the past few years I’ve been here.
“It’s an exciting time, not only for our program, but I know Mark (Francis) is very excited about getting his season kicked off at beautiful new Rock Chalk Park. Stanley (Redwine) got a little taste of that last spring with the (Kansas) Relays out there. What a beautiful facility for some of our sports that were long overdue in some facilities. There’s a lot of momentum from last year, I think we had 11 teams within the athletic department that made the NCAA postseason and we’ve got a bunch of teams that are excited about improving this year and trying to continue that tradition. So we’ll get together on Saturday for an event where we get our team out in front of some real live fans and we’re looking forward to that, and obviously its go time a week from tomorrow.
On building from the momentum created over the past couple of years, if there is a difference in attitude overall or is success an expectation as opposed to a hope:
“Once you’ve tasted a little bit of that the last couple of years, we were in the hunt, top-two or three in the league, and competitive with everyone in the league. Then we were one of 16 teams left playing in the middle of December, that certainly has some carry-over effect. With that comes some expectation. As a coaching staff: coach Bird (Laura Kuhn), Coach Todd (Chamberlain) and coach Ian (Choi), we plan everyday how to make things a little more uncomfortable to put them in a situation where the match becomes a little bit easier for them but at the same time knowing suddenly knowing Kansas is a really good RPI match for everybody else. When this preseason ranking stuff, whatever value it has, comes out, it might add some incentives to other teams that play us. We just have to take care of what we’re doing on our side. We can’t control what anybody else is doing and how we train and to this point there’s been a pretty good level of energy each and every day in practice and that’s spilled over into our newcomers because our returners have a certain expectation of how they want this year to go.”
On Kansas volleyball, after creating a name for itself, might go back to being under the radar with half of the team being freshmen:
“I don’t think we’ll be under the radar. I think we have a higher profile reputation now after that last couple of years. But it comes back to the fact that last year doesn’t equal this year, and two years ago doesn’t have anything to do with this year. It’s all about what this group wants to get done. We feel like we were a little disrespected a few years ago when some preseason Big 12 rankings came out. I know we used that as motivation so I can imagine other teams will, too. If you take care of what you’re trying to do each and every day from a standpoint of what your goals are and the level of commitment you’re making, if you’re making yourself a little uncomfortable each and every day and expanding what your comfort zone is, then I think that’s all we can ask for from our kids.”
On the importance of playing a strong non-conference schedule:
“Well we’ve been in that trend for the last couple of years and just from an RPI standpoint that seems to be the tool that the NCAA volleyball selection committee uses the most. First and foremost the goal is, once again, to get into the postseason and so that readies you for that. But beyond that, it does help you get ready for the Big 12 Conference. Obviously, we won’t see a more physical team than Penn State until we see Texas. But we’ll see different styles in Lipscomb and Denver that will ready us to play Texas Tech and West Virginia. So we try to go out and schedule all different types that play faster, teams that are more physical, so that when we see those types of teams in the Big 12, we’ll be ready for whatever style we see.”
On Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton taking over as leaders:
“Absolutely I would say that Chelsea and Sara have done that. But it’s interesting, our team made a decision not to base anything on seniority. They made the decision last spring that there aren’t freshman, there are newcomers. There aren’t seniors, there are returners. So I thought that was a high-level step in leadership right there and I know Soucie and Dockery and Cassie Wait we’re involved in that decision, as was Maggie Anderson, too. Certainly Sara and Chelsea are driving that bus in knowing that they want the newcomers to have a voice and to feel like they can hit the ground running and really add value to our team right away.”
Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton
On her expectations this season:
“I made the Big 12 Preseason Team last season, too, and it kind of put a little more pressure on the season but it also shows that you’ve been performing well and people expect it of you. I personally hope that I can lead the team as an outside hitter and be one of the more offensive players on the team.”
On giving to Locks of Love:
“One of my friends from home got cancer and she was one of the players I was a tag-a-long with growing up playing volleyball. I knew I wanted to support her and that was one way that I could show that I loved her and supported her. I cut 10 inches off of my hair and donated it in honor of her. During camp that was one of the first things the little girls noticed and asked, ‘How are you going to braid your hair this season?’ of all things to ask.”
Being 45 kills away from 1,000 for her career:
“I think it’s personally a huge goal of mine, and I just wanted to be in that top-1,000 kills since I got here freshman year. That’s been a long-term goal and took four years to get here and I’ll likely hit it during these preseason tournaments, but it’s only a side factor. I’d rather have the team winning as a whole than any personal success.”
The Jayhawks take the court for the first time at their annual Crimson and Blue alumni match on Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. inside the Horjesi Family Athletic Center. KU officially opens its season at the Kansas Invitational Aug. 29-30.