Before turning her attention to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament, Kansas University junior Caroline Jarmoc was asked one more time to reflect on the Jayhawks’ breakthrough regular season.
More specifically: Just how did a KU squad that went 15-14 a year ago transform into a 25-6 team this year?
“The whole culture of the gym has been different this year from the start — just how we compete in practice and keep each other accountable,” Jarmoc said. “So I felt that we all knew we had the potential to get (to the NCAA Tournament). It was just to work and actually get the results and get us there.”
The Jayhawks returned five starters and a libero from last season, when they posted a 3-13 record in Big 12 play.
KU was preseason picked sixth in the conference by coaches before finishing third with a 12-4 league mark.
“I think it was just the coaches changing up some practices,” Jarmoc said, “as well as the older girls taking on the responsibility of setting a certain tone in the gym and keeping that maintained all through practice and elevating everybody’s game.”
The Jayhawks also benefited by closing games in 2012 that they didn’t a year ago.
After going a combined 3-10 in four- and five-set matches in Big 12 play in 2011, the Jayhawks went 7-3 in four- and five-set matches in league play this year, which includes a 3-1 record in five-set contests.
“People didn’t think we were that great of a team when we were,” KU junior libero Brianne Riley said. “We just weren’t finishing games by two or three points. That was the difference between this year and last year is that we’re finishing those games. Hopefully, we can carry that over into the tournament now.”
KU opens NCAA Tournament play against Cleveland State at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. Two-day passes are available on the KU Athletics website ($12 for reserved/$10 for general admission).
Single-session tickets will be available at the KU ticket office attached to Allen Fieldhouse beginning at 9 a.m. Friday. Single-session prices are $7 for reserved seats and $6 for general admission.
Jarmoc said it was nice to see the Jayhawks’ improvement reflected in this year’s record.
“I don’t think we could have had as successful of a season — and we don’t appreciate this season as much — without having last season,” Jarmoc said. “Yes, we were able to move forward from that season, but it also helps to remind us what a bitter feeling is left in your mouth after a two-point loss. That’s what pushes us to work harder.”
KU coach Ray Bechard was honored Monday as the Big 12 volleyball coach of the year. It was the first time he has received the award in his 15 seasons with the Jayhawks.
“There’s a lot of fun things that have happened this year, and it all centers around the successes of the team,” Bechard said. “You don’t get awards — weekly, national or any awards — if the team isn’t excelling and achieving at a high level. It would be a little unfair of me to say, ‘Wow, this is a great award,’ when really, this is a Kansas volleyball team award.”
KU also had six athletes earn awards, including senior Tayler Tolefree, who was named the league’s inaugural Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Tolefree, a Lawrence native, has a 3.74 grade-point average in human biology/pre-med and shared the scholar-athlete honor with Iowa State’s Jamie Straube.
Jarmoc and sophomore Sara McClinton also were named to the 14-person All-Big 12 first team — the first time in school history two Jayhawks made the list in the same year. Jarmoc was one of seven unanimous selections.
Juniors Erin McNorton and Riley earned All-Big 12 honorable mention, while Tiana Dockery earned one of six spots on the Big 12 All-Freshman team.