No. 24 Kansas Travels to Elite Villanova Classic
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In his 17 seasons at Kansas, head coach Ray Bechard can’t remember a more difficult pre-conference tournament than the one his Jayhawks are headed to this weekend. The Jayhawks will take on three conference champions and defending national champion, Penn State, at the Villanova Classic.
vs. Villanova (first meeting): Kansas and Big EAST-foe Villanova will square off for the first time. KU is 17-4 all-time against Big EAST schools.
vs. Yale (first meeting): Kansas and Ivy League-member Yale have never faced each other on the volleyball court. KU is 0-1 all-time against Ivy League Schools.
vs. American (first meeting): Kansas and American, of the Patriot League, will meet for the first time. KU is 1-0 all-time against Patriot League schools.
vs. Penn State (first meeting): Kansas and the defending national champion Penn State Nittany Lions will face off for the first time. KU is 10-25-1 all-time against Big Ten schools.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play for free on KUAthletics.com, found under the Fan Central tab. Sean Kellerman will have the call. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter. The Kansas-Villanova match and the Kansas-Penn State match will be streamed on Nova Nation All-Access.
- In its 40th season of volleyball, Kansas is looking to pile on wins after achieving the 700-win milestone in the first match of the season. The Jayhawks now stand at 705.
- 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 995 career wins.
- The Jayhawks played their first midweek match of the season on Tuesday (9/9), coming away with a four-set win against neighboring UMKC.
- KU has played in two tournaments and came away with two tournament wins in the opening two weeks of the season, winning its own Kansas Invitational (8/29-30) and then going on the road to sweep through the Pioneer Classic (9/5-6) undefeated.
- Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers was named the Pioneer Classic Tournament MVP, the first such award of her career.
- Freshman setter Ainise Havili earned All-Tournament Team honors for the second time in as many weeks. She led the Big 12 last weekend with 12.90 assists per set. Overall, she upped her season average to 11.04.
- Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton recorded her 1,000th career kill last Friday against Bradley (9/5). She is the 14th player in school history to join the 1,000-kill club.
- Freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon is averaging 7.75 kills per set over the last two matches, for a total of 31 kills.
Kansas will face No. 3 Penn State in the tournament finale on Saturday. The Jayhawks have yet to beat an opponent ranked in the top-five. The most recent top-10 opponent that Kansas upset was No. 6 Minnesota in five sets on Sept. 10, 2011.
In his 30th year overall and 17th season at Kansas, head coach Ray Bechard is a legend in his own right. He is the back-to-back defending Big 12 and AVCA Region Coach of the Year. This weekend, he will be in good company as each of the teams’ head coaches boast lengthy lists of honors. Villanova’s Josh Steinbach is a previous BIG EAST Coach of the Year, American’s Barry Goldberg is a five-time Patriot League and three-time Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year. The Ivy League doesn’t appear to present a Coach of the Year award, but Erin Appleman is an AVCA Region Coach of the Year honoree. The women’s volleyball coaching legend of all legends, Penn State’s Russ Rose, is a 12-time Big Ten and a five-time National Coach of the Year.
Senior outside hitters Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton have numerous accolades and records in their illustrious careers. The duo achieved All-America status last season and this year, Albers has passed the 600 kills/600 digs mark while McClinton joined the 1,000 career kills club. Add pre-conference tournament titles to the list. After last weekend’s Pioneer Classic, the 2014 senior class has won a remarkable 11 tournament titles.
KANSAS vs. CONFERENCE KINGS
The Jayhawks’ strength of schedule last season helped the team continue its top-15 RPI reign for the last two years. The 2014 slate won’t be any different. Kansas is slated to play seven teams that were picked to win their respective conferences: Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Creighton (BIG EAST), Denver (The Summit League), Yale (Ivy League), American (Patriot League), Penn State (Big Ten) and Texas (Big 12). So far, Kansas is 2-1 against the preseason league favorites.
RIGDON IS ON
In the last two matches, the sixth and seventh of her young career, freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon is clubbing a remarkable 7.75 kills per set thanks to 16 kills at Denver (9/6) and 15 more against UMKC (9/9).
Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton chalked up her 1,000th career kill in the Jayhawks’ win against Bradley (9/6) at the University of Denver’s Pioneer Classic. She is the 14th Jayhawk all-time to reach the 1,000-kill mark at Kansas. She is also one of two active Big 12 players with 1,000 kills to their name. The other is two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, Texas senior Haley Eckerman. With a great weekend in Philly, McClinton could pass former KU players Ashley Michaels (1,054) for 13th or Moira Donovan (1,081) for 12th on KU’s career kills list.
SETTING THE TABLE
Freshman setter Ainise Havili is taking no time getting comfortable in her new role. She distributed the ball flawlessly to help Kansas beat previously undefeated Denver (9/6). Playing in her first true road match, Havili racked up 55 assists – tied for the 20th-most assists by a Jayhawk in a single match (10th-most by a freshman). Three days later, she tallied her third double-double vs. UMKC (42 assists/12 digs).
SCALING THE STAT LEADERBOARD
Already looking quite comfortable in their new positions, freshman setter Ainise Havili and sophomore libero Cassie Wait are climbing up the Big 12 statistic rankings. After leading the league with 12.90 assists per set last weekend, Havili moved up to third in the conference with 11.14 assists per set overall. Wait was equally phenomenal on the digs side as her 5.90 digs per set average this week was second among her Big 12 counterparts, and she now ranks third in the conference at 5.05 overall.
Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers earned her first Tournament MVP honor at the Pioneer Classic on Sept. 6. The six-rotation player also hit a major milestone in the first two weeks of her senior season. She 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.
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. After a 3-0 weekend at the Pioneer Classic, Kansas jumped back on the AVCA Top-25 poll at No. 24. Since 2012, Kansas has either been in the Top-25 or received votes on 26 of the last 29 national polls.
SCOUTING VILLANOVA (4-3, 0-0 BIG EAST)
The shortest-tenured head coach of the weekend, Josh Steinbach is in his eighth year at Villanova. The Wildcats opened the season at the JMU Tournament, where former Kansas volunteer assistant Wendel Camargo now works as an assistant coach, and swept through the tournament to claim the title. The Wildcats, who were picked seventh in the preseason BIG EAST poll, then fell into a three-match skid at a tournament in San Diego, California. They lost all three matches against No. 13 San Diego, Cal Fullerton and San Diego State. Junior outside hitter Lauren Carpenter was named the MVP of the JMU Classic and she currently leads the team with an impressive 4.09 kills per set. Fellow junior Emma Pettit dishes her the ball, averaging 10.0 assists per set.
SCOUTING YALE (1-2, 0-0 Ivy League)
Led by 12-year head coach Erin Appleman, the Bulldogs finished 20-5 overall and 13-1 in the Ivy League in 2013 and returned four All-Ivy selections. Appleman has led the team to six Ivy League titles, including the last four in a row. Last season, she coached the Bulldogs to a 14–0 conference record, just the second undefeated volleyball season in Ivy League history. The quest for a seventh conference championship and return to the NCAAs will feature some familiar faces. Senior outside hitter Mollie Rogers and junior setter Kelly Johnson both earned First Team All-Ivy in 2013. Rogers, this year’s team captain, led the team with 266 kills and a 3.06 per set average en route to her third-straight All-Ivy League First Team honor. Currently, four players are averaging more than two kills and two digs per set.
SCOUTING RV AMERICAN (3-2, 0-0 Patriot League)
Head coach Barry Goldberg is in his 26th season at American, after seeing his team to its 14th conference championships in the last 17 years. Like Kansas, American also saw its 2013 season come to an end in the NCAA Sweet 16 in a four-set loss to Texas. In 2014, AU was picked to repeat its success in the Patriot League, but is coming off a pair of tough losses, falling to Marquette in straight sets on Friday evening, while pushing No. 7 Florida State to five sets on Sunday in a 3-2 loss.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Katz was the top performer for American last weekend, recording seven kills against Marquette and a career-best 16 kills versus Florida State. Against the Seminoles, she had zero attack errors on 27 total attempts for a hitting percentage of .593, the best mark for an AU player this season. For her performance, Katz was tabbed the Molten Player of the Week by the Patriot League. For the season, junior outside hitter/libero Allison Cappellino averages a team-leading 3.28 kills and 3.56 digs per set, while senior setter Monika Smidova averages 9.06 assists, 3.22 digs and 1.50 kills per set.
SCOUTING NO. 3 PENN STATE (4-1, 0-0 Big Ten)
Led by the legend of all legends, 36-year coaching veteran Russ Rose has set the standard to follow in collegiate volleyball. In 2013, Penn State earned its fifth national title in the last seven years and sixth overall, tying Stanford for the most in NCAA history. The Nittany Lions lost only four sets in their six postseason matches. Along with the national championship, Penn State won its 16th Big Ten title and 10th in the last 11 years. The Nittany Lions finished with a 19-1 conference mark and 34-2 overall record, ending their campaign on a 25-match win streak, which was broken this season by now-No. 1 Stanford.
Following a pair of team-high performances last weekend, freshman outside hitter Ali Frantti earned her second-consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor on Tuesday. She opened the weekend with her first collegiate double-double against then-No. 2 Stanford, posting a match-high 22 kills on .405 hitting, adding 11 digs and two blocks. The next evening, she returned to the court to lead the offense with her fourth double-digit kill performance of the season, putting down 14 kills on .619 hitting, adding five digs in a straight-set victory against UCLA.
The most recognizable face on the team, however, is senior setter Micha Hancock. Hancock was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2011 and the Big Ten’s Setter of the Year in the two years that followed. A two-time First Team All-American, Hancock has her 2014 squad leading the nation in attack efficiency at .370.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On the elite tournament field:
“We start with Villanova and we know the type of level that they play coming from the BIG EAST. They are well-coached and certainly going in strong direction. Then we go from them to Ivy League-champion Yale, Sweet 16 team American and National Champion Penn State. We just have to compete one match at a time. Why look ahead to the last match when the three teams prior to that certainly are high-level teams in their own right. It will be quite a test for us. The goal would obviously be to go in there and be competitive and win matches, but it’s also important for us to grow in a pretty significant way as a team.”
On not dodging a tough schedule despite having team comprised of half freshmen:
“It’ll be similar to what we’re going to see in our league, but many times you can’t actually see that until you get into league play. You also don’t see it repeatedly in one day, but why not expose kids to the real world and what’s out there? We’ve done that somewhat with our schedule to this point, but this will take it to another level. Having to play two really, really good teams in the same day on back-to-back days presents its challenges, but the level of response in our team is something I’m interested in seeing.”
On the positive side of playing four teams that Kansas has never faced before:
“I asked them in the lockerroom after the Villanova match, ‘Who’s our next match?’ They knew that we were coming to this tournament, but they didn’t know who we played first – and that’s a good thing. We talked about that whomever we play, we need to go out and earn their respect by the way we play. I think we learned a lesson this past week regarding that, in that no matter who it is or what their past history is as a program – it doesn’t matter. We’re at a point now, after the last couple of years, that we’re going to be getting everybody’s best shot. And that’s what every team deserves from us.”
On his daughter, son-in-law and new granddaughter being in attendance this weekend:
“It’s unique the way it worked out, having my son-in-law and daughter in the area. It will be cool to have the chance to see them. I won’t get to spend a lot of time with them, but we do have a new grandbaby that’s in the mix, too, so that’s great. Obviously, scheduling this tournament was done before we knew any of that but hopefully some of those people in the area can attend and spend some time with us.”
On the incredible talent of this weekend’s coaching field:
“No dummies in that group. Coach (Russ) Rose of Penn State has really set the standard for our sport in the last decade and beyond. He’s done a great deal for my generation of coaches, too. He’s actually not that much older than me (laughed). When you 100 matches in a row, or something crazy like that, in a big-time conference then he’s really taken it up to a different level. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. The other coaches in their own conferences have been extremely successful. Coach (Barry) Goldberg has turned American is a great story with what they’ve done. Erin (Appleman) since she’s been at Yale has elevated that program into rock-star status. Coach (Josh) Steinbach is coming into his own at Villanova. I think our team needs to know that they’re stepping into a situation where it’s serious volleyball. These coaches and teams take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. I feel like we’re one of those teams, too.”
No. 24 Kansas returns to Lawrence to host its final pre-conference tournament of the fall, the Jayhawk Classic. KU will welcome North Texas, Cleveland State and Arkansas to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, Sept. 19-20.
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