Kansas Heads West to Pioneer Classic
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A tournament title and a character-building rebound performance already handed the young Kansas volleyball team a list of learning opportunities. Next on the docket is the Jayhawks’ first road trip, traveling to Denver, Colorado, for the Pioneer Classic, Sept. 5-6.
vs. Bradley (KU leads, 1-0): The only team at the Pioneer Classic that the Jayhawks haven’t seen recently as their only meeting came in 1986 in Peoria, Illinois, a 2-1 KU win.
vs. Sam Houston State (SHSU leads, 3-1): Kansas welcomed SHSU to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center in 2012 and finally recorded its first win in the series that dates back to 1987.
vs. Denver (KU leads, 2-0): To show appreciation to the Jayhawk fans a year ago, KU hosted a match inside Allen Fieldhouse free of charge. Denver was the opposing team and gave the crowd of nearly 4,000 a competitive show until Kansas won out, 3-1.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play for free on KUAthletics.com, found under the Fan Central tab. Adam Drovetta will have the call. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.
- In the opening match of the KU’s 40th season of volleyball, the Jayhawks collected the 700th win in program history by defeating Utah Valley in three sets.
- Back-to-back defending Big 12 Coach of the Year, Ray Bechard, is in his 30th overall season as a head coach in 2014 and his 17th with the Jayhawks. The winningest coach in KU volleyball history is sitting at 991 career wins.
- PrepVolleyball.com ranked the incoming class of 2014 at No. 15 in the country. All seven freshmen saw playing time in the opening weekend.
- 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.
- Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton was named the Kansas Invitational Tournament MVP after racking up 40 kills on the weekend. That marked her first Tournament MVP award. Freshman setter Ainise Havili earned All-Tournament Team honors.
- The tournament awards were fitting for the duo as Havili was named KU’s first Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year and McClinton was named to the Big 12 Preseason Team. Senior Chelsea Albers and sophomore Tayler Soucie each claimed spots on the Big 12 Preseason Team, as well.
HOME SWEET OPENER
For just the second time in head coach Ray Bechard‘s 17 seasons, Kansas opened the season at home. KU is 24-16 in debut matches and 14-3 under Bechard’s watch.
PAIR OF ACES
Freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon and freshman setter Ainise Havili tallied five aces apiece in their debut weekend. The last time a Kansas freshman dropped in five aces in their first three matches was 2010 when redshirt freshman Caroline Jarmoc tallied seven aces in her first three outings. The last time for a true freshman? Jana Correa in 2003. No two freshmen, however, have previously pulled off the feat together.
In the season debut, Kansas belted out a .405 hitting efficiency against Utah Valley. The Jayhawks committed only nine errors in 79 swings, including a 17-2 kill-to-error ratio in the final set – not a bad way to remember program win No. 700. The Jayhawks cracked the .400 mark twice in 2013.
Kansas knocked off No. 23 Creighton in its home invitational on Aug. 30, making six-straight seasons that the Jayhawks defeated a nationally-ranked team. On the flip side, KU’s loss to Lipscomb took the Jayhawks out of the top-25 for the first time in 12 weeks, dating back to last season. Since 2012, Kansas has either been in the top-25 or received votes on 25 of the last 28 national polls.
Freshman setter Ainise Havili and freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle already find themselves among the Big 12’s elite after their first weekend. Both rank fourth in the league in their respective specialties; Havili with 9.67 assists per set, alongside Cheadle’s 1.55 blocking average. Sophomore Cassie Wait also made her first appearance as the KU libero, and coincidentally, ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 4.50 digs per set.
Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton racked up 40 kills in the first three matches of the 2014 season. The Omaha native is only five kills away from the 1,000-career mark. Once that milestone is eclipsed, McClinton needs 132 to crack KU’s top-10 career kills list.
Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers also just passed a major marker. The six-rotation player collected her 600th kill and her 600th career dig in the season-opening weekend. Allison Mayfield was the last Jayhawk outside hitter to register more than 600 digs, during the 2011 season.
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.
Kansas’ first victory of the season marked the 700th all-time win for the program. The Jayhawks are playing their 40th season of volleyball and now hold a 701-676 record. Nearly 40 percent of those wins came in the Ray Bechard era.
SCOUTING BRADLEY (0-3 Overall, 0-0 MVC)
Under the direction of fourth-year head coach Jenny Maurer, Bradley has made huge strides as of late. Last season, Maurer led the team to a 9-9 record in the Missouri Valley Conference to earn the Braves a bid to the conference tournament for the first time since 2005. The Braves were hit with an 0-3 start at the DePaul Invitational, two of which were close five-set contests, and the other, a four-set battle that kept every set to no more than a four-point margin.
Junior outside hitter Jessie Tulacka was named to the All-Tournament Team last weekend thanks to her team-best 3.79 kills per set. In the five-set finale against Stony Brook, freshman outside hitter Taylor Thiele led the team with 14 kills. Fellow freshman Afton Sobasky handled the setting (7.21 aps), while rookie outside hitter Jamie Livaudais paced the team at the net with 0.57 blocks per set.
SCOUTING SAM HOUSTON STATE (4-0 Overall, 0-0 Southland)
Veteran coach Brenda Gray returns to the sidelines for Sam Houston State for her 31st season. Her Bearkats were voted fourth in the Southland Conference Preseason Poll after finishing the 2013 campaign 17-11 overall and 14-4 in league play (third). SHSU swept through its home invitational last weekend with a perfect 4-0 record, including a three-set sweep of SEC foe, Mississippi State.
Senior outside hitter Deveney Wells-Gibson drives the bus for the Bearkat offense. Named the Southland Conference Player of the Week on Monday, Wells-Gibson tallied an impressive 79 kills for a 5.27 kills per set average. The 2012 Southland Player of the Year, Wells-Gibson took more than twice the swings of anyone else on the team. She is also one of five players averaging more than three digs per set. As a team, SHSU digs a remarkable 18.40 balls per set.
Sophomores Shelby Genung (middle blocker) and Michelle Griffith (setter) were named to the SHSU All-Tournament Team. Genung led the defense with 0.87 blocks per set, while Griffith tallied a 10.93 assist average.
SCOUTING DENVER (3-0 Overall, 0-0 The Summit League)
Last fall, the Jayhawks welcomed Denver to Allen Fieldhouse for a KU Fan Appreciation Night. Meaning nearly 4,000 fans were on hand to watch the excellent competition that Denver brought to the table. The Pioneers took a set from the Jayhawks and kept the rest of them highly competitive before Kansas closed the 3-1 win. This year, third-year head coach Jesse Mahoney and the Pioneers welcome the Jayhawks to their gym instead.
Picked to win The Summit League, Denver returns the 2013 Summit Freshman of the Year, Nola Basey. The now-sophomore outside hitter is recording more than two kills and two digs per set. Fellow sophomore outside hitter Moni Corrujedo leads the offense with 3.67 kills per set and recorded a double-double against the Jayhawks last fall. Seniors lead the way from the setter and libero positions with Bailey Karst and Kate Acker, respectively. As a team, Denver heads in to the weekend with the best attack percentage (.283) of the tournament field.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On adjustments his team is making after last weekend:
“We worked a lot this week on ending rallies sooner, getting heavier swings and not being dependent on winning points defensively. We want to be a little cleaner earlier in rallies, certainly with what we’re doing offensively. We’ll knock on wood here, but our passing was pretty good for the weekend. If we can continue that I think the offensive rhythm and flow will develop. Obviously, there are a lot of key new people, including a freshman setter and a couple of new attackers, so that’ll continue to be something for us to focus on.”
On newcomers’ performances that stood out to him:
“Kayla Cheadle held up pretty well. I think Addie (Barry) just struggled at the end of one match, but was still pretty solid. We put Tori Miller in, during key moments, and she did well. Madison Rigdon had good moments. We didn’t really get Kelsie Payne in her rhythm, but she was effective when she was in there. All of them that got the opportunity really got the opening-match jitters out of the way a little bit and played pretty well. We would hope that between the first weekend and the second weekend there will be some good growth, too.”
On using the loss to Lipscomb as motivation to go on a run:
“Well we hope so. The response after that match was good. As a staff, you’ve got to really look at why you can play at that level for the first two sets and then just not respond after the break as well as you’d like. You can blame it all on a lot of things, but you’ve got to be ready. This weekend was a little bit of a trend with us losing the third game in two of the matches. So what’s going to allow us to come out and play with good energy and jump on teams when we’ve got them in a little bit of a hole? That’ll be important for us to find out. Especially the high-level teams, once they see an opening they can create their own momentum and that’s kid of what Lipscomb did. We did respond well in the fourth set when Creighton bounced back to win the third set, so that was good to see.”
On the seniors’ level of play in the opening weekend:
“Sara (McClinton) was really good. Chelsea (Albers), I know she thinks she can play better, but she was solid. We asked Chelsea to do so many things. She passed at a high level, which people don’t always recognize. They tend to see more of her attack and block, and she blocked fine and she attacked at a high level. She also passed and dug at a high level. We’ll get her in a better rhythm offensively as she gets a little more accustomed to a new tempo and new personnel.”
On the differences between last weekend’s tournament field and this one:
“I don’t think we’ll see the physicality of a Creighton team, but we’ll see the experience of a team like Lipscomb with Denver. Sam Houston State has a great, great player (Wells-Gibson) who can carry a ton of the work load. I know Bradley struggled that opening weekend, but you can’t really judge teams on opening weekend. Second weekends are where you see changes and coaches might have thought they were going to be decent at this, but they end up being decent at this instead. Teams make a lot of changes and we know that everyone we run into is going to deserve our best effort for sure.”
Kansas returns home to host its first midweek match of the season. The Jayhawks will welcome the ‘Roos of UMKC to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Tuesday, Sept. 9. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.
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