Ranked Jayhawks Set to Open Season at Home

2014 Kansas Invitational
Horejsi Family Athletics Center // Lawrence
Aug. 29-30, 2014
Info Tournament Central
Match 1 Friday vs. Utah Valley, 11:30 am
Match 2 Friday vs. Lipscomb, 7:30 pm
Match 3 Saturday vs. Creighton, 2 pm
Video ESPN3.com (free)
Radio KJHK (free)
Notes Kansas | Utah Valley 
Lipscomb | Creighton

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Ready to get started on following up the most successful season in program history, No. 22 Kansas will open the 2014 season at home when the Jayhawks host the Kansas Invitational, Aug. 29-30.

  • vs. Utah Valley (KU leads, 2-0): Prior to joining the Division I ranks in 2003, Utah Valley was Utah Valley State. The Jayhawks squared off against the Wolverines in September of 2005 and 2008, coming out winners in both matches.
  • vs. Lipscomb (KU leads, 2-0): Lipscomb is making its first trip back to Lawrence since 2009. Kansas won both meetings by a 3-1 score, but five of those sets were decided by three points or less.
  • vs. Creighton (KU leads, 7-1): The Kansas-Creighton series has become one of the non-conference matches to watch in the last two seasons as the schools have faced off three times in that span. In 2013, Creighton handed KU its first loss in the series in Omaha, but Kansas came out on top in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16.

Fans can listen to radio play-by-play on KUAthletics.com, found under the Fan Central tab. Derek Johnson will have the call for the Jayhawks’ opener against Utah Valley, while Adam Drovetta will take over for Lipscomb and Creighton. All three of the Kansas matches will air on ESPN3.com. Leif Lisec and former Kansas volleyball standout Jill (Dorsey) Hall will provide the analysis. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.

  • Kansas will kick off its 40th season of volleyball on Friday against Utah Valley. The Jayhawks are sitting at 699 programs wins as the season opens.
  • Back-to-back defending Big 12 Coach of the Year, Ray Bechard, will begin his 30th overall season as a head coach and his 17th with the Jayhawks. The winningest coach in KU volleyball history starts the 2014 campaign with 989 career wins.
  • KU will debut a much different look this weekend, swapping out seven seniors for seven incoming freshmen. PrepVolleyball.com ranked the incoming class of 2014 at No. 15.
  • The Jayhawks were voted to finish second in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the team’s highest preseason selection in league history. KU finished second in the conference in 2013, also a program best.
  • For just the second time in Bechard’s 17 seasons, Kansas will open the season at home. KU is 23-16 in debut matches and 13-3 under Bechard’s watch.
  • Incoming setter Ainise Havili was named KU’s first Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year. Seniors Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton, as well as sophomore Tayler Soucie, each claimed spots on the Big 12 Preseason Team. 

Head coach Ray Bechard, the reigning back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year, is adamant that losing Kansas volleyball’s most successful senior class has not affected the expectations for the 2014 season. Just the opposite, in fact, as the Big 12 Conference coaches voted the Jayhawks to finish second in the preseason poll, the highest selection in KU’s history. Texas was voted to win the league, following its seventh Big 12 title and a Final Four run in 2013.
700 CLUB
Kansas’ first victory of the season will mark the 700th all-time win for the program. The Jayhawks are entering their 40th season of volleyball and hold a 699-675 record. Nearly 40 percent of those wins came in the Ray Bechard era.
Incoming setter Ainise Havili was named the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year for the first time in KU volleyball history. In addition, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton made her second appearance on the Big 12 Preseason Team, while fellow senior outside Chelsea Albers also made the team. Both were All-Big 12 First Team honorees last season and were awarded AVCA All-America Honorable Mention accolades. Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie earned Big 12 Preseason Team honors for the first time, as well.
In 2013, Ray Bechard became the only coach in program history to earn the Big 12 Coach of the Year distinction in back-to-back seasons. He is one of five league coaches to win the award multiple times and third to do so in back-to-back seasons.
In the last two seasons, the Jayhawks are an impressive 29-5 at home. KU’s fans are well aware as Kansas averaged 1,649 fans in attendance in 2013, the 23rd-best attendance in the NCAA.
KU begins the year ranked No. 22 on the AVCA preseason poll, the second-straight season that the Jayhawks garnered early national attention. A year ago, Kansas tied the program’s highest ranking at No. 17 in the final poll after posting a second-place finish in the Big 12 standings. Combined with the 2014 preseason ranking, the Jayhawks have appeared on the poll for the last 12-consecutive weeks. Since 2012, Kansas has either been in the top-25 or received votes on 24 of the last 27 national polls. Six of KU’s 2014 opponents are on the preseason poll, including No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Texas.

Incoming freshman Ainise Havili was named one of two setters on the official 12-player U.S. Women’s Junior National Team (WJNT) roster. The team went on to win the NORCECA Women’s U-20 Continental Championship in Guatemala. The US team didn’t even lose a set on its way to the gold medal.
Filling the shoes of the most successful senior class in Kansas volleyball history is not easily done – but head coach Ray Bechard and his coaching staff got as close as possible as PrepVolleyball.com ranked KU’s incoming class of 2014 No. 15 in the country. The departing senior class consisted of seven women, including the program’s first All-American in Caroline Jarmoc, the Big 12 Setter of the Year in Erin McNorton and KU’s all-time digs leader in Brianne Riley. When they arrived in 2010, PrepVolleyball.com rated them the 26th-best class in the country. Thus, the 2014 group of rookies is the highest-ranked recruiting class that Bechard and his regime have put together.
All three upperclassmen are outside hitters and together have totaled nearly 2,000 kills and 500 blocks in All-American seniors Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton and junior Tiana Dockery. The strength of the outside hitters will play a large role in the Jayhawks’ transition from being a veteran team in 2013 to being a young team in 2014. Despite losing seven seniors, KU returns 80 percent of its kills from last season – thanks in large part to the outside hitters.
After rolling out seven seniors last season, the Jayhawks have just two in 2014. The duo pulls a lot of weight. Chelsea Albers finished second on the team with seven double-doubles last season (kills/digs) and tied for the team lead in double-digit kills performances (20). Fiercely competitive and versatile, Albers became the first Jayhawk to surpass the 300+ kills, 200+ digs and 100+ blocks in a season since 1993. Sara McClinton led the team with 3.13 kills per set last season and starts the year just 45 kills shy of the 1,000-career milestone.
KU’s offense broke the program record for attack percentage (.254) last fall, downing the previous record of .246 set in 2003. The .254 mark checked in at second in the Big 12. Aside from attack percentage, the Jayhawks also broke the program record for block assists in a single season (522). For the first time in Big 12 history, KU led the league in kills (1,801) and assists (1,694). In fact, KU’s 1,801 kills were the most by any Big 12 team since 2007.
The Jayhawks tallied 11 Big 12 weekly awards in 2013, which tied for the fifth-most by one team in a single-season in league history. KU entered the 2013 season with 14 Big 12 weekly awards all-time before nearly doubling the mark. Seven different Jayhawks were weekly award recipients. The seven awards by a different player is a league record. Texas had six different players collect honors in 2008.
The Wolverines are led by coaching veteran Sam Atoa, who begins his 16th season at the helm this fall. In the team’s first season in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), the Wolverines went 11-5 to finish third in the league standings. A year ago, the offense averaged 12.3 kills per set off of 11.3 assists. Talented at the net, the Wolverines posted 2.4 blocks per frame.
Junior middle blocker Lauren Bakker (formerly Lauren Stringham) was tabbed the WAC Preseason Player of the Year after leading the league in blocks last season with a 1.57 per set average in conference-only play. She also finished second in the league in blocks for the entire season (1.33 per set average) and ranked 32nd nationally in the same category. Joining Bakker on the preseason team are seniors Kalani Norris and McKenna Tait. Norris was named to the preseason All-WAC team after leading UVU in kills a season ago. The senior outside hitter tallied 333 kills, a 2.78 kill per set average. Tait, the senior libero and a first team All-WAC performer last season, led the league in service aces in 2013 with 55 (0.45 per set average).
SCOUTING LIPSCOMB (0-0 Overall, 0-0 Atlantic Sun)
Led by 12th-year head coach Brandon Rosenthal, Lipscomb was voted to win the Atlantic Sun Conference. After three-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2009-11, Lipscomb barely missed its chance the last two seasons. In 2013, Lipscomb fell 3-2 to Jacksonville in the A-Sun Championship match at Kennesaw State to finish second in the conference with a 15-3 record and at 23-8 overall.
Lipscomb brings back one heck of cast from last season, highlighted by the 2013 A-Sun Player of the Year (Jewell Dobson) and Libero of the Year (Bri McCombs). Both were picked to repeat the roles as the 2014 A-Sun Preseason Player and Libero of the Year. An AVCA Honorable Mention All-American, Dobson ranked 11th nationally in NCAA Division I in points per set, 13th in kills per set and 37th in hitting percentage. A year ago, she led the A-Sun overall in hitting percentage (.378), kills per set (4.53) and points per set (5.16). McCombs led the league in conference-only matches with a 4.62 dig average.
Additionally, three of the Lady Bison are local kids in Brittany Thomas (Overland Park, Kansas), Chloe Rogers (Stillwell, Kansas) and Lauren Ford (Lenexa, Kansas). Ford was also named to the 2014 A-Sun Preseason Team.
SCOUTING No. 23 CREIGHTON (0-0 Overall, 0-0 Big EAST)
The most familiar foe of the weekend is easily the Creighton Bluejays. Led by head coach Kristen Bernthal-Booth in her 12th season, the Jays were voted to win the Big EAST in the 2014 preseason poll. The Jayhawks and Bluejays faced each other twice last season, with Creighton coming away with a pre-conference win in Omaha last September. When the NCAA Selection Committee sent Creighton to the Lawrence two months later, the Bluejays won their first round match but were eliminated by Kansas in round two.
Ready for a rematch, Creighton comes to town just one spot behind Kansas in the AVCA Preseason Poll at No. 23 and is armed with plenty of returning talent. All six starters and 12-of-13 letterwinners return from last year’s team that went 23-9 and finished second in the BIG EAST. Seniors Kelli Browning and Leah McNary were each named to the Big EAST Preseason Team after earning first team all-conference honors last fall. Browning has led the team in blocks the last two seasons, while McNary has paced the offense in kills.
On being excited to open up his 17th season at Kansas:
“The last 17 years I’ve woken up with a stomach ache on the Monday of the week we’re supposed to play. You always get that sense of ‘Wow we’ve got all this time together and all of these two-a-days’ but you just feel really rushed. Maybe even a little more so this year because we have so many new players, but everybody is kind of in the same boat that way. We do play three teams this weekend that have more experience back than we do. We get a little anxious about that, but we feel like we’ve worked hard. There will be some bumps early as we navigate, but we’ve got a number of players back that have been through it, too. We’re excited and cautiously optimistic.”
On if he sees more nervousness or excitement from his young team:
“I think it’s a mix of both. I’m sure they are like us (the coaching staff) in being nervous about the unknowns, but they know they just have to get out there and play. They’ll be fine. The pre-conference schedule we’ve chosen to play will be challenging and maybe not every team would’ve chosen to do that with such a big roster, but we’ve got to hit the ground running.”
On opening the season at home:
“I’m just really glad that we’re not traveling. Last year we had a pretty extensive trip to Arizona and we played some really good teams there, but there is comfort in taking out the travel anxiety with a new team – at least in that first week – since there are so many other things for them to transition into.”
On the approaching win No. 700 for the program:
“Let’s keep moving toward No. 750, No. 800 and so on. It would be great if we played well and played hard so we can remember it that way. Once it happens and the match is over, we might reflect on it a little more, but it’s definitely cool to be close to that.”
On Utah Valley:
“Sam (Atoa) is a good friend of mine and he does a great job, we go back to juco days. He’s a highly-respected coach. Last year was a year for them to get a sense of their new league. This year, he feels like they’ve got as good of a chance as anybody to win it. He’s got some very talented players and does things the right way. It won’t be too unlike our season opener last year against a very experienced and talented Central Arkansas squad. We’re expecting a great effort from them.”
On Lipscomb:
“Brandon (Rosenthal) has done a wonderful job, recruiting heavily out of the Kansas City area. He has had success with a number of kids really flourishing out of his system and out of his program. I know they welcome the opportunity to play the likes of us, Creighton and Utah Valley. Obviously, he feels really good about the players he has coming back and he should. The local players will be excited to come back and play close to home. We’ll have to work hard to match their energy.”
On Creighton:
“It seems like over the past few years, both of our programs have really moved in a positive direction – almost simultaneously, actually. Kirsten (Bernthal-Booth) has done a great job. They are picked to win the Big EAST. They matriculated their way through a new conference last year, too, and they really got hot down the stretch. We had to play them very well in the NCAA Tournament to advance, and all of those faces return again this year. They feel like this might be the year that they can have their breakthrough season.”
Kansas will hit the road next weekend for the Pioneer Classic hosted by Denver University, Sept. 5-6. The Jayhawks will take on Bradley, Sam Houston State and Denver inside Hamilton Gymnasium in Denver, Colorado.
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