No. 23 Kansas to Open Big 12 at Oklahoma
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Three pre-conference tournament titles in four weeks give the 23rd-ranked Kansas volleyball team reason to be ready to start Big 12 Conference action. Now in a much different setting, the Jayhawks will get down to conference business as they travel south to face Oklahoma, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m.
vs. Oklahoma (OU leads, 46-32): An evenly-matched series, the teams are split down the middle at 5-5 in the last 10 matches. KU has won three of the last four, but Oklahoma spoiled the Jayhawks’ three-match winning streak in the series when the Sooners defeated Kansas on their senior day last November.
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. Fox College Sports (FCS) will televise the match. 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. He celebrated a major milestone last weekend with career win No. 1,000. He comes to Norman with a career mark of 1,001-279.
- Kansas climbed a peg on the AVCA Top-25 Coaches Poll this week, climbing to No. 23 after two weeks at the No. 24 spot.
- KU finished the non-conference season with three titles in four tournaments. The only tourney Kansas didn’t win was the Villanova Classic – coming in second to defending national champion Penn State.
- Freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon earned KU’s first Big 12 Player of the Week award of 2014 on Sept. 22. Her team-best 4.18 kills per set at the Jayhawk Classic was rewarded with Offensive Player of the Week status.
- Sophomore libero Cassie Wait was named the MVP of the Jayhawk Classic, coming directly off her first All-Tournament Team nod at the Villanova Classic. Freshman setter Ainise Havili earned her third All-Tournament Team honor in her early career.
- Aside from Wait and Havili, senior outside hitters Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton also appeared on All-Tournament Teams during the pre-conference season.
- Kansas spouted off a seven-match win streak after falling to Lipscomb in August. Following the loss to No. 3 Penn State, the Jayhawks have rebuilt a three-match win spree.
- Havili’s 558 assists rank 13th nationally, up from 19th last week, while Wait’s 245 digs lead the Big 12 and rank 26st nationally.
- As a team, KU is second in the Big 12 Conference in kills (696), which checks in at 28th in the NCAA.
Head coach Ray Bechard recorded the 1,000th win for his career against Cleveland State (9/19). 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 285 wins with the Jayhawks rank second among active Big 12 coaches. Several coaches, friends and former players reached out to congratulate the veteran coach on video – including Oklahoma head coach Santiago Restrepo.
BIG 12 OPENERS
For the sixth time in seven years, Kansas will open its Big 12 schedule on the road. Only once have the Jayhawks started league play against the Sooners, but it was also on the road when KU traveled to Norman during the 1998 season, Bechard’s first year at the helm in Lawrence. Kansas came away from that trip with a 3-1 victory.
RIGDON IS RAKING
At the Jayhawk Classic, freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon led the team with 4.18 kills per set on a .301 attack percentage. In the championship match against Arkansas, Rigdon broke loose for a personal-best 20 kills and nine digs. In turn, Rigdon became the first freshman to collect the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week award since West Virginia’s Hannah Sackett during the 2012 season.
PLAYERS OF WEEK
Freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon‘s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week recognition on Monday was KU’s first weekly award of the season. A year ago, the Jayhawks tallied 11 Big 12 weekly awards, which tied for the fifth-most by one team in a single-season in league history. 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.
Freshman setter Ainise Havili is mowing through her first season as the Jayhawks’ floor general. Entering the Oklahoma match, only 14 games into her career, Havili is knocking on the door of a fairly prominent record. With 558 assists, Havili could catch Trisha Lindgren (789) for the fifth-most assists in a freshman season in KU history. She is currently averaging 40 assists per match, putting her on pace to take over the most assists by a freshman (Katie Martincich, 2006, 1,193).
Kansas moved up to No. 24 on the latest AVCA Top-25 poll (9/22). In the last 31 national polls, KU has been receiving votes or on the poll in 28 of them.
For the last four years, Kansas vs. Oklahoma meant a dominating middles matchup in KU’s Caroline Jarmoc and OU’s Sallie McLaurin. On Saturday, the teams will meet without their All-American middles – but their younger replacements still provide plenty of power. Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie leads KU (ranks third in the Big 12) with 1.36 blocks per set, while freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle backs her up with 0.90 blocks per set. For Oklahoma, sophomore middle blocker Micaela Spann paces the Sooners with a 0.94 blocking average.
WAIT FOR ME
Sophomore libero Cassie Wait leads the Big 12 with 245 digs entering the week. Her defensive skillset helped KU win the Jayhawk Classic as she racked up 54 digs for a 4.91 average. Wait’s performance was rewarded with Tournament MVP honors, the first such accolade of her career.
SCOUTING RV OKLAHOMA (9-4, 0-0 Big 12 Conference)
In his 11th season at the helm, head coach Santiago Restrepo has made the Oklahoma volleyball program a constant contender in the Big 12. The Sooners have reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five seasons and posted four consecutive seasons with 20-plus wins after a 24-8 campaign in 2013 that ended in the NCAA Second Round. A year ago, the Sooners finished the Big 12 race tied for third, one match behind Kansas, and were voted to finish fourth in 2014.
Oklahoma is receiving votes in the AVCA Top-25 Coaches Poll and played a high-caliber non-conference schedule, including matches on the road at No. 10 Florida and No. 13 North Carolina. The Sooners competed in both, taking two sets from Florida and one from UNC. Also benefitting from a midweek bye, OU last played on Saturday which resulted in a 3-0 loss at Duke.
OU’s blocking presence isn’t quite as strong with the graduation of two-time All-American Sallie McLaurin. The Sooners rank last in the league in blocking (1.88), but lead the Big 12 in service aces (1.67). Three Sooners rank in the top-10 in aces, including junior outside hitter Kierra Holst whose 0.53 ace average leads the conference. Holst also leads the team with 3.02 kills per set. Sophomore outside hitter Kimmy Gardiner is a new face after transferring in from Mississippi State. She was a force for MSU, leading the team with 4.03 kills per set to add to her 2.49 dig average. Gardiner earned All-America Honorable Mention status before leaving for Oklahoma. Distributing the offense, junior setter Julia Doyle puts up 10.18 assists and 0.57 blocks per frame.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
“They have really good balance. Offensively, I think they have five weapons they can go to, as you look at their stats. They move the ball around, so they’ve done a really nice job of replacing (Sallie) McLaurin and then added the transfer (Kimmy Gardiner). Gardiner is obviously second in kills for them, so that’s been a great find. They’ve got a veteran setter in Julia Doyle. They almost won at Florida and beat a very good Cal State Northridge team, SMU has proven to be a good team (who beat OU in five sets). I know they’re going to be one of the top teams in our conference.”
On starting Big 12 play against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas:
“Well, you get right in it, and then there are two road matches after that are at places that are tough to play in. You can put yourself in a good position here. You play everyone twice, one true champion in this league. So when you play, you have to be ready each and every time. That schedule will even out, but it figures to be a good challenge for our young team this year.”
On the seniors relaying to the younger players what to expect about Big 12 play:
“We gathered all of the upperclassmen together and just talked to them about ‘Hey, you guys are driving this bus.’ The newcomers don’t know what this environment is going to be like and how it’s different from the standpoint of how you ramp it up a little bit just from an intensity standpoint. The returners have been there, they know. They can do a good job of sharing information with the newcomers and maybe the newcomers will just go in there and just go for it. So it’s a venue similar to ours in terms of size, energy and the crowd is on you. So it will be good for our team to experience that. Hopefully, we’ll prosper in that situation because we’ll be in those environments a lot in Big 12 play.”
On this particular group of newcomers being more ready or not:
“We hope so. They’ve seen some quality opponents; they’ve played against some high-level teams. We have competitive practices every day. But they need to go through this and experience it. I was talking to one of our players today about how we haven’t had our whole team out there playing all well at the same time yet. So I think certainly, unlike last year, where we were playing on a pretty high level early, that this team will continue to grow into who they are.”
No. 23 Kansas heads home for a tough week when the Jayhawks welcome the Kansas State Wildcats on Wednesday, Oct. 1 and the No. 2 Texas Longhorns on Sunday, Oct. 5. First serve times are set for 6:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
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