Friday, August 21, 2009

Volleyball shoots for top-half finish


Head coach Ray Bechard’s favorite memory of the 2008 Kansas volleyball season was senior night. Facing a tough Baylor team with a better record and some hard hitters, Kansas rallied to take the match in four sets.

“We played a good team,” Bechard said. “But it was our best match of the year. It’s rewarding to play our best volleyball at the end of the year.”

And that’s the kind of volleyball Bechard will be looking for as he heads into his 12th season at KU. The 2008 season was far from a disappointment, but it wasn’t the championship finish the Jayhawks were looking for. The young team closed out its season with a 13-16 overall record, marking the 10th time under Bechard that the team has earned 13 or more victories. Preseason reports had the Jayhawks finishing in the bottom of the Big 12, but KU finished tied for eighth place with a 7-13 record and the most Big 12 victories for the Jayhawks since 2005.

“We thought we accomplished a lot,” Bechard said. “But our goal was to get to the NCAA Tournament, and we fell short of that goal. I think whenever you fall short of a goal, you need to take some time for reflection. You need to think about where you can make changes to improve.”

Some of those changes will come from the four new freshmen recruits that will join the Jayhawks. Morgan Boub from Blue Valley West High School will contribute as a defensive specialist, and Catherine Carmichael from Manhattan will help the Jayhawks up front. Tayler Tolefree, a Lawrence High graduate, and Caroline Jarmoc from Calgary, Alberta, will provide some depth to the middle court.

“Tayler’s been working hard all summer,” Bechard said. “She has an opportunity to add some athleticism to the team and jump in right away. Caroline was highly recruited. We’re really excited about her. She has a Big 12 physique and she will add a lot.”

KU lost two of its top players last year in seniors Natalie Uhart and Savannah Noyes, but with the new recruits and returning players with the advantage of another year of experience, Bechard hopes to fill that void. One of those returning players is sophomore Nicole Tate, who as a freshman started in 129 games and was named to the Big-12 All-Freshman team.

“To turn the team over to a freshman setter, it’s a difficult task to handle,” Bechard said. “But Nicole is confident and athletic and she can handle it well. I think the jump from freshman to sophomore year will just give her the ability to run the team more effectively and to make better decisions. That year of experience will serve her well.”

Other top returning players include senior Brittany Williams at middle, junior defensive specialist Melissa Manda, and sophomore outside hitters Allison Mayfield and Lauren Hagan.

And KU will need their experience to carry out Bechard’s goal of finishing in the top half of the Big 12.

The conference sent two teams, Texas and Nebraska, to the NCAA Final Four last year, and this year’s competition promises to be just as tough.

“The Big 12 is consistently in the top two or three conferences in the country,” Bechard said. “Whether it’s Texas or Nebraska, or our matchups with Missouri and Kansas State, there’s going to be a number of competitive matches. It goes on and on. You just have to have the approach that each match is the most important and just take it one step at a time.”

The Jayhawks are set to kick off their season Aug. 28 against the host team in the Middle Tennessee State tournament.


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