NCAA Tournament: Kansas Keeps Dancing Against Washington
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Headed to the first Sweet 16 in Jayhawk volleyball history, No. 14 overall seed Kansas will take on the nation’s No. 3 seed, the Washington Huskies, in the Los Angeles Regional of the NCAA Tournament inside USC’s Galen Center, Friday at 7 p.m. CT.
REGIONAL SEMIFINALS – Friday, Dec. 13
Match 1:  Washington (28-2) vs.  Kansas (25-7) – 7 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
Match 2:  USC (28-5) vs. BYU (24-6) – 9 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH – Saturday, Dec. 14
Semifinal #1 Winner vs. Semifinal #2 Winner – 10:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU)
vs. Washington (UW leads, 1-0): Nine years and nine days separates the Jayhawks and Huskies from their only two meetings in series history. On Dec. 4, 2004, Kansas was looking for its first Sweet 16 berth and fought off the seventh-overall seeded Washington after falling behind two sets to none. Kansas stormed back, winning the next two sets to force the decisive fifth set. Washington came out on top of the back-and-forth fifth, 15-12, to advance to the Sweet 16.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play on the Jayhawk Digital Passport, found under the Fan Central tab on KUAthletics.com free of charge. Aaron Berlin will have the call.
Both of the NCAA Tournament LA Regional semifinal matches from Los Angeles will air on ESPN3.com, while the regional championship will broadcast on ESPNU. Sam Gore and three-time Beach Volleyball Olympian, Holly McPeak, will provide the analysis. Fans can also monitor the action on GameTracker or by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.
- Kansas is making its first Sweet 16 appearance against the team who kept the Jayhawks out of the Sweet 16 in 2004. Washington won the first two sets before KU came back to force a fifth set. UW went on to defeat Kansas 15-12 in the fifth to advance.
- Friday will pit the PAC-12 Coach of the Year in Washington’s Jim McLaughlin against the Big 12 Coach of the Year in Kansas’ Ray Bechard.
- Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers drove the bus for the Kansas offense in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The All-Big 12 First Team member busted loose for a career-high 17 kills against Wichita State in the first round and outdid herself in round two with 18 in KU’s win against Creighton.
- Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc cranked out 25 kills and committed just three errors in the first and second rounds. Her 41 career NCAA Tournament kills are now the third-most in KU postseason history.
- Additionally, Jarmoc brought her overall career total to 1,326, surpassing former players Sarah Rome (1,306) and Karina Garlington (1,309) for second all-time at Kansas.
- The Big 12 Setter of the Year – senior Erin McNorton – tallied her seventh and eighth double-doubles of the season in each of KU’s first and second round matches, bringing her career total to 19.
- The Jayhawks played in front of 4,017 fans in their first round match against Wichita State – the seventh-largest crowd to watch a KU home match.
- The Jayhawks have played 16 matches against 11 teams included in the NCAA Tournament field in 2013, going 9-7 in those matches.
- For the tournament, Kansas is hitting .245 as a team, racking up 14.88 kills per set on 14.50 assists. KU averaged 17.38 digs per set behind a 2.25 blocking average.
- For the season, Kansas ranks in the top-30 in the NCAA in kills (14.48, 12th NCAA), assists (13.61, 12th NCAA) and hitting percentage (.259, 29th NCAA). Additionally, KU’s 2.57 blocks per set are 46th-best in the country. (NCAA Stats Released: 12/9)
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, Calif. 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, Wash. 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 (2-0): Picking up a national seed and hosting rights for the first and second rounds for the second-straight season, Kansas has accomplished yet another new milestone this season – the program’s first trip to the Sweet 16.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Kansas came out on top after being dealt a stacked deck by the NCAA Selection Committee for the first and second rounds. As the top seed in the pod, Kansas took down No. 4-seeded Wichita State last Friday (12/6). The Shockers were hardly a prototypical four-seed as they tied for the regular-season Missouri Valley Conference crown before locking up the automatic bid when it won the MVC Tournament. At 28-6 overall, the Shockers’ winning percentage (.824) ranked only behind College of Charleston’s .833 (RPI: 65) and Jacksonville’s .909 (RPI: 89). In the most recent RPI release (12/2), Wichita State checked in at No. 35. The No. 4 seed closest to that in this year’s tournament was UC Santa Barbara (RPI: 60).
Aside from WSU, Kansas (RPI: 13) welcomed Creighton (RPI: 16) and Arkansas (RPI: 36) to give the Lawrence bracket an average RPI of 25. The Madison, Wis., bracket was the next closest with Wisconsin (RPI: 15), North Carolina (RPI: 22), California (RPI: 38) and Milwaukee (RPI: 77).
ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD
Although KU snapped a four-match win streak to close the regular season at Oklahoma (11/30), the Jayhawks actually had momentum on their side. Dating back to the 2011 season (a 66-match span), Kansas has lost back-to-back matches only once, which ironically was to Arkansas (9/7) and at Creighton (9/10) – both of which played in the First and Second Rounds in Lawrence last weekend, specifically Creighton, who KU had to beat to reach to get to LA.
CHECK OUT CHELSEA
Junior outside hitter Chelsea Albers has been crucial in big game situations all season. She cranked out 16 kills against three errors at Arizona (8/31), 12 kills at Kansas State (10/2) and 14 kills to one error at Iowa State (11/20). All three of those performances, however, paled in terms of significance of the stage she was put on last weekend.
The All-Big 12 First Team member knocked down a career-high 17 kills against Wichita State (12/6) before coming up even bigger against Creighton (12/7), this time with 18 kills to lead KU past the Bluejays. She led the Jayhawks in the first and second rounds with 35 kills and an impressive 4.38 average.
Senior Erin McNorton, the Big 12 Setter of the Year, was on point on the floor – and in the record books – in KU’s first and second round action. She put up double-doubles (assists/digs) in both matches and averaged 13.12 assists for the weekend.
While she was in NCAA tourney beast mode, she made some substantial progress on KU’s record book. McNorton hopped her previous season-high and now sits second all-time at Kansas in single-season assists (1,488) in 2013. The Dallas native also moved into fourth in the record books for single-season assists per set (12.20) and second in career assists per (10.20). She broke the 3,000-career assists barrier over the weekend, as well, and heads to LA with 3,060.
Kansas checks in at No. 23 on the AVCA Top-25 Poll (12/2), marking the seventh week Kansas has been on the national poll this season. The Jayhawks have been on the poll or receiving votes in 20 of the last 23 weeks. Kansas finished the regular season at No. 13 in the NCAA RPI (12/2). The Jayhawks have not been outside the RPI’s top-20 in the last two years. Also in the latest poll, Washington is ranked No. 5, USC is No. 7 and BYU is No. 21.
With several individual records being broken and reset, it only makes sense that team milestones are also on the verge of being eclipsed. The 2013 squad moved up on the all-time Kansas season lists in the following categories: attack percentage (.259, 1st), block assists (516, 1st), assists (1,660, 3rd) and kills (1,767, 5th).
ACE ACE BABY
Kansas has out-aced its opponents in five of its last six matches, including a season-high 10 aces in the Jayhawks’ win over Wichita State (12/6) in the first round. The Jayhawks will need another fierce effort at the serving line as the team’s 0.98 aces per set average ranks 283rd in the NCAA compared to Washington’s 1.76 – the fifth-best in the country. The Jayhawks did, however, lead the Big 12 in fewest aces allowed with 0.66. For the NCAA Tournament, KU is averaging a cool 1.75 aces per set. Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc and freshman defensive specialist Cassie Wait lead the way with four aces apiece from the first and second rounds.
HOW SWEEP IT IS
With 11 sweeps to their credit, the Jayhawks are the only team in the Big 12 that has not been swept this season and haven’t been since Oct. 12, 2012 (at No. 9 Texas) – a span of 45 matches. BYU is the only other team in the LA Regional that has not suffered a sweep in 2013.
RUNNING OUT OF RECORDS
Senior libero Brianne Riley now has 60 total digs in her postseason career, a Kansas record. Not surprising for the player who has now amassed 2,041 for her career, which moved her ahead of former Kansas State libero Angie Lastra (2,032; 2004-07) for the fourth-most in Big 12 history. With 613 digs in 2012 and 543 in 2013, Riley is also the only player in the program to post 500-plus digs in back-to-back years. In fact, prior to Riley, only one Jayhawk had posted back-to-back 400-dig efforts (Jill Dorsey: 2003, 2004).
Sophomore outside hitter Tiana Dockery hasn’t started a match since Oct. 16 at Texas Tech, but has become an effective weapon off the bench. Since the meeting with the Red Raiders, Dockery has connected on 43 kills – including 17 in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
SCOUTING No. 5 WASHINGTON (28-2 Overall, 18-2 PAC-12)
Led by PAC-12 Coach of the Year Jim McLaughlin, in his 13th season, Washington is making its 12th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and 18th all-time. Like the Jayhawks, the Huskies also hosted the first and second rounds last Friday and Saturday, defeating Alabama State and LSU. Prior to the NCAA Tournament, UW rolled through non-conference play a perfect 10-0 before embarking on a tough PAC-12 slate. Sharing a league with top-25 foes Arizona State, USC, Oregon, Cal and Stanford – Washington emerged from conference play with a mere two losses (at Colorado, at No. 5 Stanford) to win the conference crown.
Pac-12 Player of the Year, junior outside hitter Krista Vansant, leads the Huskies with 456 kills and a 4.34 average heading into the weekend. She and fellow junior outside Kaleigh Nelson were named to the All-Pac-12 Team. Nelson checks in behind Vansant with a 3.10 kill average. Sophomore middle blocker Lianna Sybeldon is Washington’s most efficient attacker with a .349 hitting percentage and a team-best 1.30 blocks per set. She earned honorable mention accolades to reflect her work as did senior libero Jenna Orlandini, who leads the team with 4.17 digs per set. Senior Jenni Nogueras and sophomore Katy Beals are a dual threat from the setter position, dishing out 6.41 and 5.42 assists per set, respectively.
As a unit, Washington averages 14.01 kills per set and hits for a .279 attack percentage. At the net, the Huskies block 2.85 blocks per set and only get blocked at a 1.65 rate.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On facing Washington for the first time since the 2004 NCAA Tournament:
“We were down 2-0 and came back and got it to a fifth set. I think it was one of the better efforts that I’ve been a part of by a Kansas volleyball team. I’m pretty sure they went on to the Final Four that year and then they won a national championship in 2005. They’ve just been consistently, extremely good and this appears to be one of their better teams. For them to go through their league and win 18 out of 20, obviously they play at a high level consistently. This time of year, it’s wonderful to still be playing and you know you’re going to run into some great teams.”
On going to Los Angeles:
“We could’ve been more regional, but there’s certain allure to the west coast. It’s supposed to be a little warmer there. I know our team will play hard, but on a side note, I know it will be fun to be in a different locale. I think with BYU, USC, Washington and Kansas that this is one of the stronger regionals. But we also had the opportunity to play one of the tougher first and second rounds. I was just so pleased with our preparation, our effort and our competitive confidence. That’s a word I want to use this weekend. There were a lot of swings in momentum and we’ve got to shut that down. You can’t allow a team like Washington to go on a five-point run because you just can’t recover from that. I’m just so pleased with our team and the way we showed competitive confidence and competitive composure. We made big plays when we needed to.”
On shaking off the fact that their previous meetings against Wichita State and Creighton resulted in losses:
“We’re were on a mission for sure. I think the end feeling from last year created a level of competitiveness and a level of togetherness that they knew this was their shot to kind of rectify the whole situation from last year. This team has been asked to do a lot of things this year that they’ve gone out and done. Whether it be a tough road match, now into a Sweet 16. That’s a cool feeling, playing this late into December. That’s everybody’s goal. I’m proud of them, I’m happy for them, but I also want them to put together a great effort out there this weekend.”
The winner of the (3) Washington vs. (14) Kansas match will go on to face the winner of the (4) USC vs. BYU match in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.
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