Jayhawks Primed for Home-Opening Weekend

Kansas Invitational
Horejsi Family Athletics Center
Lawrence, Kansas
Sept. 4-5, 2015
Match 4 Friday vs. Western Illinois, 11:30 a.m.
Match 5 Friday vs. Duke, 7 p.m.
Match 6 Saturday vs. UMKC, 4 p.m.
Video ESPN3
Radio KJHK (free)
Notes Kansas

Tickets Link Purchase Tickets

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Riding a three-match winning streak, Kansas volleyball returns to the friendly confines of the Horejsi Family Athletics Center to open the 2015 home schedule with the Kansas Invitational on Friday and Saturday. The first of two non-conference tournaments in Lawrence this season feature matches against Western Illinois, Duke, and UMKC.

vs. Western Illinois (WIU leads, 3-2): Kansas and Western Illinois meet for the first time since 1991 on Friday. Kansas won the last meeting in four sets on Sept. 6, 1991 in Lawrence.
vs. Duke: First meeting.
vs. UMKC (Kansas leads, 32-1): Long-time opponent UMKC will meet Kansas for the 34th time on Saturday. The Jayhawks have won the last 21 matches against the Roos dating back to 1983 and hold a perfect 23-0 record in Lawrence. The series dates back to 1975.

Fans can watch all three KU matches on ESPN3 through WatchESPN, listen to radio play-by-play at KUAthletics.com/Radio, and by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.

• 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 weekend with a career mark of 1,014-286 and two 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.

Kansas opened the season as victors of the Arkansas Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Last weekend’s season opener featured sweeps of Army and McNeese State, and a four-set comeback victory over host Arkansas. Sophomore setter Ainise Havili was awarded Tournament MVP honors after leading KU’s offense to a team .330 attacking percentage and totaling nine aces in three matches. Junior Cassie Wait took home Outstanding Libero honors after averaging 4.8 digs per set, while senior outside hitter Tiana Dockery (3.1 k/s) and sophomore right-side Kelsie Payne (4.1 k/s; .438) were listed on the All-Tournament team.

After the opening weekend of competition, the Jayhawks are one of four undefeated teams in the Big 12 (TCU, Texas, Texas Tech) and lead the league in hitting percentage (.330) and aces per set (2.6).

Kansas held a 26-3 edge in service aces during the first three matches of the season at the Arkansas Invitational. In the match against Arkansas, the Jayhawks were nothing short of outstanding from the service line, recording 10 aces in a match for the first time since the 2013 NCAA Tournament (vs. Wichita State, 12/6/13).

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.

In his 18th season at the helm, KU volleyball’s winningest coach Ray Bechard sits just two 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.

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.

A seven-member recruiting class that ranked in the top-15 last fall now means seven returning sophomores with a lot of experience – specifically returning starting setter Ainise Havili. The AVCA All-America Honorable Mention honoree is back after leading the Big 12 in assists. Kelsie Payne ranked in the top-10 in blocks and attack percentage, while Kayla Cheadle posted the second-best attack percentage in the conference.

From May 18-30, the Jayhawks traveled to Europe on a training trip aimed at combining cultural education with intense practices and competition. The team went 6-1 in its matches played between training sessions and travel to destinations in Italy, France and Spain. The seven matches against foreign competition, including the high-caliber Italian Federation, put the Jayhawks ahead of schedule when they reported for the season on Aug. 9.

Of the 36 athletes that USA Volleyball selected to participate in the U.S. Collegiate National Team (CNT) program, three of them were Jayhawks. Outside hitter Tiana Dockery, setter Ainise Havili and right side Kelsie Payne ventured to New Orleans to train and compete in conjunction with the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships from June 21-29. Playing for the CNT Blue Team, Dockery and Payne led their squad to a championship finish.

Kansas is receiving votes in the latest AVCA Coaches poll (8/31). In the last 44 national polls, KU has been receiving votes or on the poll in 35 of them.

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.

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.

• The Big 12 awarded a program-record six Jayhawks with all-conference honors – the most of any team in the league.
• The Jayhawks earned a national seed in the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight season (No. 16). KU joined 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.
• After starting 0-3 in Big 12 play, the Jayhawks won 10 of their last 13 conference contests to finish the season tied for second place in the Big 12. Prior to 2013, Kansas had never finished second – now the team has done it twice in a row.
• During the regular season, KU played 10 teams that received an NCAA Tournament berth in 2014 and the Jayhawks went 7-7 against them.
• In the Big 12, the Jayhawk offense led the league in kills (1,627) and ranked second in kills per set (13.79), assists per set (12.82) assists (1,513) and digs (1,811). KU’s overall winning percentage (22-9, .710) tied for second among its conference counterparts.
• Freshman setter Ainise Havili set the tone in the conference with her 1,332 assists and 11.29 assists per set, both of which were the best by all Big 12 setters in 2014 and were among the top-20 in the nation. What’s more, her 1,332 assists broke the KU freshman record.
• Havili also chalked up 14 double-doubles on the year (assists/digs) – the third-most DDs in the Big 12 and the most by a freshman. That also tied her for 10th-most in a season at Kansas.
• Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie completed the season as the conference’s blocking leader. Her 1.40 blocks per set ranked 18th in the NCAA.
• Sophomore libero Cassie Wait became the third Jayhawk in program history to surpass 500 digs in a season (Brianne Riley twice, Catalina Suarez). Her 561 digs were the second-most all-time at Kansas in a single season, while her 4.75 dig average was the program’s third-best.
• Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers became just the seventh Jayhawk in history to post 900-career kills and 800-career digs in a single-season.
• Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton finished her tenure in sixth place on KU’s all-time career kills list. McClinton had 1,272 for four-year career, landing her just 10 kills short of Amanda Reves’ fifth all-time 1,282 kills from 2008-11.

Kansas visits Laramie, Wyoming, for Pistol Pete’s Showdown, hosted by the University of Wyoming, Sept. 11-12. The Jayhawks will face battle-tested opponents including the likes of Northern Colorado, Wyoming, and Marquette. Wyoming opened the season with a three-set win over Ohio State, while Marquette defeated Iowa State in Ames last weekend. The four teams combined for a 10-2 record in the opening weekend.