Kansas Prepped for Weekend Opener in Arkansas
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Unprecedented opportunities have finally arrived. Receiving votes in the national preseason poll and on the hunt for a historic season, Kansas volleyball will open the 2015 campaign at the Arkansas Tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Aug. 28-29.
vs. Army: First Meeting
vs. McNeese State (Kansas leads, 1-0): The Jayhawks have not squared off against McNeese State in more than 20 years. After losing the first set, KU claimed the next three at home on Sept. 10, 1993.
vs. Arkansas (Kansas leads, 5-4): Kansas and Arkansas have a long-standing partnership of training together in the spring and have also grown accustomed to one another in the fall. This will mark the fifth meeting in the last three seasons. The Jayhawks won the last meeting in four sets on Sept. 20, 2014.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play for all three matches at KUAthletics.com/Radio. Derek Johnson will have the call. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter. Thanks to extended radio coverage this season, the Kansas at Arkansas match will also be live in Lawrence on KLWN (1320 AM).
KANSAS AT A GLANCE
- Head coach Ray Bechard is in his 31st overall season as a head coach in 2015 and his 18th with the Jayhawks. He enters the year with a career mark of 1,011-286 and is five wins away from No. 300 at Kansas.
- After back-to-back seasons of finishing second in the Big 12 Conference race, the Jayhawks were picked fourth in the 2015 Big 12 Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
- Though Kansas lost just two players from the 2014 roster, they were the two most productive on the offensive side. Chelsea Albers (343) and Sara McClinton (317) accounted for more than 40 percent of KU’s kills last fall. KU led the league in kills (1,627) for the second-straight season.
- On the flip side, nearly 75 percent of KU’s blocking numbers come back and nearly 80 percent of the team’s dig production returns in 2015. This includes the Big 12 leader in blocks per set in Tayler Soucie (1.40) and the third-most digs in a single season in Cassie Wait (561).
- Sophomore setter Ainise Havili will reprise her starting role after breaking the KU freshman record with a Big 12-best 1,332 assists last year.
- On her right, sophomore Kelsie Payne will start her second collegiate season by shifting from middle blocker to right-side hitter. She ranked second in the Big 12 in attack percentage (.341) and was ninth in blocks per set (1.06).
- Havili, Payne and Soucie were each named to the All-Big 12 Preseason Team. That marks the second-straight preseason nod for Soucie and Havili and the first for Payne. Soucie was All-Big 12 First Team last fall, Payne was on the Big 12 All-Freshman Team and Havili earned AVCA All-America honorable mention.
- On Media Day (8/19), Bechard announced that freshman Patricia Montero will miss the 2015 season due to a torn ACL suffered while playing with the Puerto Rican national team. Her knee has been repaired and she is on pace for a full recovery a return to the court this spring.
- Kansas was named an overall national seed in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments (No. 16, 2014; No. 14, 2013; No. 11, 2012). KU joins perennial volleyball powers Stanford, Texas, Washington, Penn State, Florida, Kentucky and Nebraska as the only other teams in the country to earn a national seed in each of the last three years.
- KU finished the 2014 season at No. 15 on the final RPI tally of the season. In the last three years, the Jayhawks have never been outside the top-30.
As the 2015 season officially opens, the Jayhawks set their sights on turning their run of success into an unprecedented streak. Never in Kansas volleyball history has the program been to four-straight NCAA Tournaments. Senior Tiana Dockery could become the first Jayhawk in program history to play in the NCAAs four times.
A MILESTONES THROW AWAY
As he prepares to open his 18th season at the helm, KU volleyball’s winningest coach Ray Bechard sits just five wins away from his 300th at Kansas. If and when he reaches the milestone – just one year after collecting career victory 1,000 – Bechard will rank second among active Big 12 coaches for victories (Jerritt Elliott, Texas).
The Jayhawks will square off against eight NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and three squads that appeared in the final 2014 AVCA poll. Of the 20 opponents on KU’s schedule, all but four were top-100 RPI teams last fall.
BIG 12 PRESEASON POLL
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. Even with the depth returning – 12 letterwinners in all –Bechard wasn’t surprised that the league coaches picked his team fourth despite finishing second each of the last two seasons. KU’s offensive production leaders from a year ago, Sara McClinton and Chelsea Albers, finished their careers as two-time All-Big 12 First Team and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention honorees.
JOIN THE RANKS
Kansas is receiving votes on the preseason AVCA Coaches poll (8/12). In the last 43 national polls, KU has been receiving votes or on the poll in 34 of them.
Kansas volleyball welcomed a small, but high-powered freshman class with Patricia Montero (Ponce, Puerto Rico) and Ashley Smith (Las Vegas, Nevada). A member of the Puerto Rican national team, Montero was named the U16 Power League West Coast MVP in 2012 and went on to claim MVP honors again at the U17 Angel Matos Cup in 2013. She was also named to the U17 Power League East Coast All-Star Team in 2013. While playing with the national team in Canada this summer, Montero suffered a torn ACL and she will not play in the 2015 season.
Smith was a standout player from day one at Shadow Ridge High School, earning three-straight years of Sunset Division First Team honors in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. Smith also added a Conference MVP to her resume in 2014.
In the offseason, KU’s senior class tripled in size. Where outside hitter Tiana Dockery might become the first player to play in four-straight NCAA Tournaments, the Jayhawks also welcome senior transfers Anna Church and Ashlyn Driskill. Church was a stud libero and defensive specialist at Saint Louis University, racking up more than 1,000 career digs. Driskill comes to KU after graduating with a chemistry degree in three years from Wichita State University.
SCOUTING ARMY (0-0, 0-0 Patriot league)
Led by ninth-year head coach Alma Kovaci, the Army West Point volleyball team was slated to finish third in the Patriot League’s preseason poll. American, who Kansas defeated last season at Villanova, was slated to repeat as the conference champion. The Black Knights finished fourth in the Patriot League last season with a conference record of 9-7 and were 14-16 overall. The team returns virtually its entire offense with Vanessa Edwards and All-Patriot League Preseason members Nicole Perri and Carolyn Bockrath.
In 2014, Perri ranked second in the conference in kills with 318. Her 3.03 kills per set average ranked fourth in the league. She appeared in 105 of the Cadets’ 107 sets last season, the most of any player on the team. She also contributed 119 digs, good for fifth on the team, and was second in blocks behind Bockrath, who totaled 38.
SCOUTING McNEESE STATE (0-0, 0-0 SOUTHLAND)
Led by second-year head coach Ashleigh Fitzgerald, McNeese State was picked ninth in the Southland Conference. The Cowgirls posted a 15-17 overall record and went 5-11 in conference play last season.
Returning to help lead McNeese in 2015 are senior outside hitters Amber Fryer and Malina Sanchez, who led the returners with 259 and 232 kills, respectively, last fall. Fellow senior, setter Kelly Graham, is back after setting more than nine assists per set last year. The makeup of the team will be changed a little this season as the Cowgirls welcome seven newcomers to the squad, consisting of four freshmen and three transfers.
SCOUTING ARKANSAS (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Heading into its eighth year under the direction of head coach Robert Pulliza, Arkansas received 88 points and was picked fifth overall in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) preseason poll, trailing only Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Texas A&M in the vote. The Razorbacks, who went 15-16 and 9-9 in the SEC last fall, will feature a roster of 12 returners and five newcomers. This includes their three-player senior class of Monica Bolinger, Liz Fortado and Chanell Clark-Bibbs, who was named to the All-SEC Preseason Team.
In her first season at Arkansas, Clark-Bibbs led the 2014 team with a .337 hitting percentage on her way to All-SEC and AVCA All-South Region honors. She ranked among the top 20 in three statistical categories in the SEC at eighth in blocks per set (1.01), 12th in hitting percentage and 18th in points per set (3.25). Clark-Bibbs finished the year second on the team with 2.52 kills per set and led the team with 24 service aces.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On the possibility of an unprecedented season:
“Unprecedented is something we have talked about. We have not won a Big 12 Championship. We have not gotten past the Sweet 16. So there are things to achieve out there, but I think you can’t lose sight of what an honor it is to be selected to the NCAA Tournament, how hard that is. We aren’t going to get ahead of ourselves there. A few years ago the goal was (getting into) the NCAA Tournament. Now that’s still one of the goals, but it’s one on the way to some of the other things we are trying to accomplish.”
On what the 2015 Jayhawks have that his other teams have not:
“I think we have the ability to play pretty fast. We have good ball control and good volleyball IQ. It’s going to come down to the physicality of our team. You lose Chelsea Albers, who was our most physical player the past two or three years, and Sara McClinton, who when playing at her best, was unstoppable. Now, Madison Rigdon can be good, Tiana Dockery can be good, Ashlyn Driskill can be good, Kelsie Payne, etc., but it’s going have to be at a high tempo. We have the opportunity to be a high-level offensive team if we can handle the ball like we hope. We are not going to dominate teams with our block, but we are going to frustrate teams with our defense. If things fall into place and we stay healthy, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
On the seven-member freshman class coming back experienced:
“We’re hopeful that the biggest jump for these freshmen is between their freshman and sophomore year. We’re seeing gains from other people, too. We’ll play a little differently, I don’t think we’ll be quite as physical. We’ve got some pretty good volleyball players that have a very high volleyball IQ. We may not have finesse, but we’ll play a little faster and have to defend at a higher level.”
On the middle blockers:
“We went from a very deep group to now, of those three (Tayler Soucie, Kayla Cheadle, Janae Hall), we’ve got have two really good performances every night. That means Cheadle taking on a different role, Janae taking on a different role and hoping Soucie continues to play at the level she has been playing. That doesn’t preclude (Kelsie) Payne from getting some time there if people don’t step up, but I think one of our keys to success this year is how that group of three will come together and work their butt off.”
On the defensive specialists:
“Somebody’s really got to push Cassie Wait to bump her out of that libero spot – and we hope that’s the case that somebody will. Of the other four, we can play two maybe three consistently. We will develop them all. We know that all five of them will have their moment sometime during the season, but we need consistency out of two or three of them so we can play at a high level. We need Addie Barry, Tori Miller and Claire Carpenter, all of whom got extended time this spring, to make a difference. Obviously, Anna Church has had a lot of experience and will contribute to that group.”
On the setters:
“As a freshman to come in and for us to say to Ainise Havili, ‘Hey we need you to lead our team and be great in everything you do.’ That’s a lot to ask, obviously, but she was a stud about it. Plus, you’ve got to talk about Maggie Anderson, because no one drinks the Kool-Aid quite like she does. There’s nothing fake about it. She really loves her team. She loves what KU volleyball stands for. That group, those two setters right there, are pretty good examples of young ladies we really want to coach.”
Kansas will return home to host the Kansas Invitational, Sept. 4-5. The Jayhawks will welcome Western Illinois, No. 25 Duke and UMKC to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
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