NCAA Tournament: Kansas Hosts UALR in First Round
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas volleyball will begin its third-consecutive NCAA Tournament with an overall national seed and a first and second round host when the Jayhawks welcome Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas-Little Rock to the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas, Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Match 1: Friday, Dec. 5, 4 p.m.: (2) Creighton vs. (3) Oregon State
Match 2: Friday, Dec. 5, 6:30 p.m.: (4) Arkansas-Little Rock vs. (1) Kansas
Match 3: Saturday, Dec. 6, 6:30 p.m.: Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner
The winner of the Topeka, Kansas bracket will advance to the Ames, Iowa Regional hosted by Iowa State, Dec. 12-13. The four predetermined regional sites are: Hilton Coliseum (Iowa State) in Ames, Iowa; KFC Yum! Center (University of Louisville) in Louisville, Kentucky; Alaska Airlines Arena (University of Washington) in Seattle, Washington and Sports Pavilion (University of Minnesota) in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (KU leads, 2-0): The Jayhawks and Trojans will meet for the third time on the volleyball court. Nearly 20 years separate the teams’ two meetings as KU defeated UALR on Oct. 3, 1992 and again on Sept. 11, 2010. Kansas has never lost a set to the Trojans.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
The KU-UALR match will stream live on YouTube.com/KUAthletics. Fans can listen to radio play-by-play 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.
KANSAS AT A GLANCE
- 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 enters the NCAA Tournament with a career mark of 1,011-285.
- Kansas is hosting the NCAA First and Second Rounds for the third-straight season. For the first time, however, it will not be in Lawrence. Due to the Kansas vs. Florida men’s basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 5, KU volleyball is taking up residence at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas.
- Since 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. That marks the second-straight second-place finish for the Jayhawks.
- Kansas jumped up to No. 11 in the latest NCAA RPI projections (11/30). That means KU has been outside of the RPI’s top-20 just three weeks in the last three years.
- In all, KU played 10 teams that received an NCAA Tournament berth in 2014 and the Jayhawks went 7-7 against them.
- In the Big 12, he Jayhawk offense finished the regular season ranked second in kills per set (13.84), assists per set (12.85) and overall winning percentage (22-8, .733).
- Freshman setter Ainise Havili continues her reign of leading the Big 12. The Fort Worth native set the tone in the league with her 1,278 assists and 11.31 assists per set, both of which rank first in the conference and 18th in the NCAA.
- Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie completed the regular season as the conference’s blocking leader. Her 1.47 blocks per set rank ninth 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 534 digs and 4.74 dig average rank third all-time in a KU single season.
- Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers became just the seventh Jayhawk in history to post 900-career kills and 800-career digs on Senior Day against Oklahoma (11/30).
WELCOME TO TOPEKA
Overcrowding is a good problem to have. With ESPN in town to broadcast the nationally-ranked men’s basketball matchup between Kansas and Florida inside Allen Fieldhouse on Dec. 5, and the Kansas volleyball team awarded hosting rights to the NCAA Tournament – Kansas Athletics had to find a way to handle both events simultaneously. Thanks to the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas, the basketball team and ESPN can stay in Allen Fieldhouse – what has also served as the volleyball’s NCAA hosting site for the last two seasons – while the volleyball team still gets home court advantage.
For the second-consecutive season, Kansas will host the highest RPI bracket of the first and second rounds. On the latest RPI release (11/30), Kansas is No. 11, Creighton is No. 24, Arkansas-Little Rock is No. 31 and Oregon State is No. 36 for an RPI average of 25.5. Oregon’s host site is the only other that has four teams with an RPI average in the 20s (No. 10 Oregon, No. 20 Oklahoma, No. 38 LSU, No. 46 Santa Clara).
Not only are the Jayhawks making their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, this season also marks the third-straight year that Kansas was named an overall national seed (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.
Kansas pulled off the feat that no other Jayhawk volleyball team had before when the Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16 last December. Chelsea Albers set a KU postseason record with 39 kills in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, while Cassie Wait tied a record with her four aces. Heading into the 2014 tournament, Sara McClinton (52) and Albers (51) rank second and third, respectively, for career kills in the postseason. Both will be trying to catch Josi Lima, who tallied a KU-best 66 kills in her three NCAA appearances from 2003-05.
BRING BACK THE BLUEJAYS
If Kansas advances past Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round and Creighton does the same against Oregon State, that would set up a repeat of last year’s NCAA Second Round. Kansas and Creighton have become quite the non-conference rivals. In the last three seasons, CU and KU have squared off four times with the Jayhawks winning three of those – including the match last season that sent KU to the Sweet 16.
SHARE THE WEALTH
The Big 12 awarded a program-record six Jayhawks with all-conference honors – the most of any team in the league. Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers led the way with her second-straight All-Big 12 First Team selection, while sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie earned a spot on the First Team for the first time. Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton made her third-consecutive appearance on the All-Big 12 Team, this time with honorable mention recognition. She was joined by junior outside hitter Tiana Dockery and freshman setter Ainise Havili. Havili was also a unanimous selection to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Fellow rookie middle blocker Kelsie Payne was also named to the All-Freshman Team.
KANSAS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
2003 (1-1): In its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance Kansas swept Long Beach State in the first round match in Malibu, California. In the second round, top-seeded Pepperdine won its 25th-straight match that season to knock KU out of the tournament.
2004 (1-1): Kansas defeated Santa Clara in four sets in the first round in Seattle, Washington. In the second round, KU came back from an 0-2 deficit but fell in five sets to Washington.
2005 (0-1): After a 15-15 season, an injury-depleted Jayhawk roster fell in the first round to UCLA, 3-1.
2012 (1-1): Posting the best winning percentage in program history (.788), Kansas earned a No. 11 overall seed and first and second round hosting rights. The Jayhawks welcomed more than 8,000 fans to Allen Fieldhouse over the two-day tournament, which saw KU defeat Cleveland State in the first round and fall to Wichita State in the second.
2013 (2-1): Led by four All-American Jayhawks, Kansas finished second in the Big 12 Conference and went on to earn the No. 14 national overall seed. The Jayhawks defeated Wichita State and Creighton to advance to the first Sweet 16 in program history. The Jayhawks were defeated by fifth-ranked Washington, who went on to the 2013 Final Four.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE
Although the NCAA Tournament will take place in the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka this season, if history repeats itself KU fans will be glad to show their support. The Jayhawks sold out a program-record seven different matches inside the Horejsi Family Athletics Center in 2014, beating their previous high (5) set last season. Had just 18 more fans shown up for KU’s showdown with West Virginia on Nov. 26, Kansas would’ve sold out every Big 12 home match this season. KU’s home attendance ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 35th nationally. In the last three years, KU is a solid 41-8 at home.
Prior to the regular-season finale against Oklahoma (11/30), the Jayhawks were 0-5 in five-set matches in 2014. Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, Kansas had never lost five-straight five-set matches. So when the Sooners went up 8-5 in the fifth set on Senior Day, the losing streak threatened to continue. Led by, who else but seniors Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton, the Jayhawks went on a tear and out-scored the Sooners 10-3 to win their first fifth set of the year, 15-11.
Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie finished the regular season as the best blocker in the Big 12 Conference with 1.47 blocks per set. Last year, Soucie broke the KU freshman blocks record with 135 total blocks. This fall, Soucie is looking to sail past that with 125 blocks entering the NCAA Tournament. Against Oklahoma (11/30), Soucie set a Horejsi Family Athletics Center record with 13 total blocks. Her performance helped the team as a whole break a team HFAC record with 20.5 team blocks, the second-best blocking performance by a Big 12 team this season.
SCOUTING ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK (29-4, 20-0 SUN BELT Conference)
UALR heads to Kansas after capturing its first Sun Belt Tournament title since 2000. The Trojans boast the nation’s longest win streak at 24 matches and put together the first 20-0 regular-season Sun Belt slate in conference history. UALR dropped just 10 sets over its win streak, which dates back to Sept. 12.
The Trojans are led by senior outside hitter Edina Begic, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year for the third-straight season – the most of any player in conference history. She attacks for an impressive 4.66 kills per set and has more than 500 total kills on the season.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Edina Selimovic and junior outside hitter Sonja Milanovic joined Begic on the All-SBC First Team. All three hail from Bosnia-Herzegovina and stand 6-2 or taller. As a unit, UALR puts up 13.62 kills per set and has a solid .283 team attack percentage, which would rank second behind No. 3 Texas in the Big 12.
The Trojans are led by 27-year coaching veteran, Van Compton, who was named the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year. Compton and Kansas coach Ray Bechard have a long-standing history as she used to recruit players from Bechard’s previous school, Barton County Community College.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On hosting in Topeka rather than Lawrence:
“We play well in a lot of different venues and this is just another great opportunity for our program. We know there are a lot of Jayhawk fans in the Topeka area and we’ll take our die-hards with us over there. There are four really quality teams going to be there, and obviously, you have to seed those one through four, but any of those teams can come out of this thing. Considering the win streak that UALR is on, then Oregon State beating Oregon late in the year, Creighton winning its conference tournament and then Kansas is playing well lately, there are going to be a lot of teams playing at a good level.”
On being named a national seed three years in a row:
“That’s pretty cool. That’s what we want, that’s the expectation. We want a high finish in the Big 12, we want a good pre-conference run and the last part of it, of course, is to play well in the postseason and to represent our athletic department in an exemplary manner.”
On his young team peaking at the right time:
“Those youngsters have played 30 matches now against really good competition, including two of the top-five seeds and a ton of teams that are in the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s a new season, we’ve got to wipe that slate (regular season) clean and remember who we are. We’re playing a team in UALR that is obviously red-hot with outstanding volleyball personnel. Anytime you get into the ‘Big Dance,’ (any team) whether or not it is a mid-major, could get hot and make a run and Arkansas-Little Rock is certainly one of them. They will have our full and undivided attention.”
On his relationship with UALR head coach Van Compton:
“She’s a wonderful lady and has done a great job with that program over an extended period of time. We’re good friends even though that drifted a little bit when she didn’t call me every year for JuCo players from Barton after I got the job here. They were in our tournament a few years ago (2010) and I’ve always kept track of her and her team. She has one of the best teams she’s ever had, I would think, so I’m happy for her. Not so happy that we don’t want to compete and have success on Friday, but she’s done a great job.”
On having a balanced team heading into the NCAA Tournament:
“You’ve got to be balanced this time of year. It’s go time. You can’t take a set off. You can’t take a point off. You’ve got to be consistently good. That’s what makes this time of year fun, but also adds a certain stress level, too. I’ve talked to some of my coaching buddies this week and we all want this week to come, we’re all excited. Then when it comes, everyone thinks they have the toughest draw in the world. It’s funny.”
The winner of the Kansas vs. UALR match will take on the winner of the Creighton vs. Oregon State match on Saturday, Dec 6. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m., inside the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas.
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