No. 24 Kansas Heads Home for Jayhawk Classic
LAWRENCE, Kan. – One final weekend of non-conference play stands between the 24th-ranked Kansas volleyball team and the beginning of Big 12 action. The team will spend it at home hosting the Jayhawk Classic, Sept. 19-20.
AROUND THE GYM
- Friday – Bring a Friend Fridays: Buy one youth ticket, get one free
- Saturday – Hike & Spike: $3 admission with football vs. Central Michigan ticket stub
vs. North Texas (Tied, 2-2): Kansas and the Mean Green began their series in 1977, but have never met on either school’s campus. Most recently, KU recorded a 3-0 win on Sept. 11, 2009.
vs. Cleveland State (KU leads, 2-0): KU fans will always appreciate CSU as the first team that Kansas played in an NCAA Tournament match in Allen Fieldhouse, defeating the Vikings in four sets on that Nov. 30, 2012 meeting.
vs. Arkansas (Tied, 4-4): A familiar foe, Kansas and Arkansas will meet for the fourth time in the last three years and eight times total since the series started in 2003. Ironically, KU is 3-1 on Arkansas’ court and the Razorbacks are 3-1 in Lawrence.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play on KUAthletics.com, found under the Fan Central tab. Adam Drovetta will have the call. All three of the Kansas matches will air on ESPN3.com with Leif Lisec and former Kansas volleyball standout Jill (Dorsey) Hall providing the analysis. Saturday will mark the first televised match of the season on the Time Warner Cable SportsChannel. Fans can also monitor the action by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.
- 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 998 career wins entering the weekend.
- The Jayhawks are happy to be home after playing four matches in two days in Philadelphia last weekend at the high-powered Villanova Classic.
- KU has played in three non-conference tournaments and came away with two tournament titles, winning its own Kansas Invitational (8/29-30) and then going on the road to sweep through the Pioneer Classic (9/5-6) undefeated. KU finished second at the Villanova Classic.
- Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers and sophomore libero Cassie Wait earned Villanova Classic All-Tournament Team honors.
- Aside from Albers and Wait, freshman setter Ainise Havili and senior outside hitter Sara McClinton have also claimed All-Tournament honors so far this season.
- The Jayhawks snapped a seven-match win streak on Saturday – although it happened against a team capable of halting most win streaks, the defending national champion Penn State.
- Havili’s 427 assists lead the Big 12 and rank 19th nationally, while Wait’s 191 digs also lead the league and rank 21st nationally.
- As a team, KU leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks among the top-35 teams in the country in kills (528, 34th) and assists (493, 35th).
Head coach Ray Bechard needs only two wins to reach 1,000 for his career. In his 30th year as a head coach, Bechard spent the first 13 years of that career at Barton County Community College. There he built a remarkable record of 716-60 and was inducted to the National Junior College Athletic Association Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1998. At Kansas, he is the defending back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year and the program’s winningest coach. His 282 wins with the Jayhawks rank second among active Big 12 coaches.
Kansas checks in at No. 24 for the second-straight week on the latest AVCA Top-25 poll. In the last 30 national polls, KU has been receiving votes or on the poll in 27 of them.
Freshman setter Ainise Havili served up five aces against fellow 2013 Sweet 16 squad, American University. Not only was it a career-high for the Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, it was also the most aces by a Jayhawk since 2010 – and the most ever by a KU freshman.
DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK
KU lost the opening set for the first time this season against an American University (9/13) team that is receiving votes on the current AVCA poll and reached the Sweet 16 a year ago. When AU took set one easily and fell behind 9-4 in set two, the Jayhawks stormed back to win three-straight sets. The Jayhawks made a name for themselves last year with the same comeback trick, most impressively their rally from an 0-2 deficit on the road at No. 25 Wisconsin. KU would win the match in five on the Badgers’ home floor. Wisconsin ended the year as runner-up to the national championship.
KU’s first meeting with the powerhouse that is Penn State resulted in a 3-0 Kansas loss. In their last 56 matches, the Jayhawks have been swept just twice. After enduring a brutal first-set loss that saw PSU strike for 17 kills and only one error, KU struck back. Led by 11 kills from freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon, KU halted the blowout and forced Penn State to the minimum two-point victory in the last two sets. A three-set loss wasn’t the plan, but aside from its loss to then-No. 2 Stanford, Penn State hasn’t had to win sets by the minimum margin in more than one set all season.
PRESEASON PICK: CHECKING IN
Freshman setter Ainise Havili was the first Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year selection in Kansas volleyball history and through the first three weeks of her rookie season, she’s certainly on the mark. Her 427 assists lead the Big 12 and just passed former Jayhawk setter Nicole Tate for the most at KU through their first 11 career matches. Tate tallied 426 in her first 11 outings as a rookie in 2008. Havili is at 427. Her 2.54 digs per set is second only to KU’s libero (Cassie Wait) and she already has four double-doubles to her credit.
Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers broke the 20-kill plateau for the first time in her career with 22 kills against American (9/13), highlighted by an insane nine kills on 14 swings without a single error in the third set. Due to a well-balanced offense, 20 kills is not a regular occurrence for a KU box score. In fact, the only other Jayhawk with a 20-plus kill performance on her resume is fellow senior outside hitter Sara McClinton. Even as a member of the 1,000 kills club at Kansas, McClinton has just two 20-plus kill matches in her career.
SCOUTING NORTH TEXAS (9-1, 0-0 Conference USA)
Led by second-year head coach Andrew Palileo, the North Texas Mean Green are off to their best start in school history. Voted to finish fourth in the team’s second season as a member of Conference USA, North Texas’ only loss came in five sets against then-No. 15 Missouri. Since then, UNT knocked off Wichita State in five sets and is riding a seven-match win streak following a tournament title at its own Mean Green Classic.
Junior outside hitter Carnae Dillard ranks fourth in the NCAA with her astounding 5.58 kills per set. She averaged a whopping 6.10 average in last weekend’s Mean Green Classic. In her first – and only – year in the Sun Belt Conference, she was named the league’s Freshman of the Year. Aside from her attacking prowess, Dillard leads the team with 3.33 digs per set. Sophomore setter Amy Henard will get her the ball. Named to the C-USA All-Preseason Team, Henard is already in the Mean Green’s top-10 list for career assists.
CLEVELAND STATE (6-4, 0-0 Horizon League)
Three-time Horizon League Coach of the Year Chuck Voss is in his 15th season at the helm of the Cleveland State volleyball program. The Vikings were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll and will make their first trip to Lawrence since playing the Jayhawks in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament inside Allen Fieldhouse. Like the Mean Green, they also hosted a tournament last weekend and came out 3-0, defeating Navy, Dayton and Toledo at the CSU Invitational.
Junior outside hitter Christina Toth was named the MVP of the CSU Invitational, which she highlighted with a career-high 18 kills against Dayton. First team all-conference returnee, senior middle blocker Maggie Hannon, leads the offense with 2.88 kills per set, while freshman middle blocker Alex Middlebrooks set the hitting efficiency pace at .277. Middlebrooks also leads the team in blocks (1.21 per set), and junior libero Nikki Holmes backs her up with an impressive 5.45 digs per frame. Expect two setters to be used in junior Dayna Roberts (5.31 a/s) and freshman Gina Kilner (4.88 a/s).
SCOUTING ARKANSAS (4-6, 0-0 SEC)
In his seventh season at Arkansas, head coach Robert Pulliza’s Razorbacks were voted seventh in the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll. Arkansas hosted its own tournament to kick off the season and came away with the title, capped by a five-set victory over Michigan. From there, however, the Razorbacks hit a bit of a rough patch and have lost six of the last seven.
Through the first three weekends of the season, Arkansas ranks third in the SEC with 2.69 blocks per set. Against SMU, the Razorbacks matched their season high with 16.0 total team blocks and out-blocked their opponent for the eighth time in 10 matches this year.
On her way to being named to the Razorback Invitational All-Tournament Team, senior Meredith Hays averaged 4.31 kills per set and 3.00 digs per set during the three-match round robin. She had a pair of double-double performances each with at least 20 kills and 14 digs. Hays also added seven total blocks in the weekend finale against SMU.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On the recovery process that goes into five matches in five days:
“We, hit it pretty hard. It was important. We extended ourselves Tuesday more than we needed to, so it was important Friday to get a couple of 3-0 sweeps and try to be ready to go for Saturday. So this week we got back in the gym, got out there pretty good on Monday, did a little recovery on Tuesday, then got back into it Wednesday and Thursday.”
On looking back on the Villanova Classic, was it still one of the hardest tournaments:
“Yeah, I think we went to Minnesota a couple years ago and played Northern Iowa, Minnesota and St. Louis (2011), that was good. You look back now at Arizona and Central Arkansas (2013) and that was pretty good. But it was good, the fact that you play four matches and the two-top opponents are on the second day added to that challenge, I thought our team managed it pretty well.”
On Madison Rigdon and her performance against Penn State:
“Yeah, it was really solid, and she was taking big swings in big moments and it was good to see that. As she navigates her way through her first season, I think she’s beginning to understand what we need from her – not just from a competitive standpoint, but from a communication standpoint. As a six rotation player as a newcomer, that will increase physical stress and increase a lot of mental stress, too, because of all the responsibilities you have. We think that’s the first step in her having a really good first year here and hope that leads to a really good career.”
On his family support in the stands in what could be a milestone weekend:
“Well it’s pretty typical that there is good support all the time. I suppose if they don’t have anything better to do, they might come by. Our family all has got a lot going on, so anytime they can carve out time in their schedule, we enjoy being together. Whether that’s at a volleyball match, or whatever it is. Anytime they can get together, this is an excuse for them to do that. Certainly Pam (Bechard, his wife) has been there for all of them (the 1,000 wins).”
On the tournament field:
“We’ve got two good teams to play Friday in North Texas and Cleveland State. North Texas’ coach is in his second year (Andrew Palileo) and has a stance about what he wants to get done. Obviously, his team is buying into what he’s talking and doing. It’s a real experienced group, athletic group, who is dynamic offensively and serves tough. They see this as a great opportunity for them; we obviously need to be thinking the same way.”
On the fun non-conference rivalry with Arkansas:
“We’ve developed a nice little competitive regional rivalry with Arkansas. Robby (Robert Pulliza) and I committed to playing each other every year. We’ll go to their tournament one year and they’ll come here the next. We train against each other in the spring. It makes us better because they’ve got a really good volleyball program. Last couple of years we’ve hosted them here at the NCAA Tournament, but we haven’t had the chance to play them in the NCAA tournament. That speaks well to the job he’s doing. It’s a team a lot like ours because they’re physical and they play in a league that is highly thought of. So it’s really a good opportunity for our team each and every time we play them.”
No. 24 Kansas will open Big 12 Conference play on the road at Oklahoma on Saturday, Sept. 27. First serve is set for 7 p.m.
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