Hopes high for Jayhawks' non-revenue sports

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A call went against the Kansas University volleyball team Wednesday night in its match against No. 19 Iowa State and KU basketball coach Bill Self, seated next to director of basketball operations Doc Sadler, slapped the table in front of him.

Basketball players Elijah Johnson, Naadir Tharpe and Justin Wesley sat in the stands on one side of the Horejsi Center, women’s hoops players Angel Goodrich, Carolyn Davis and Monica Engelman and football player Daymond Patterson on the other side.

Legendary former Lawrence High volleyball coach Joan Wells, inducted into more Halls of Fame than Elvis Presley had gold records, took in the match, as did former KU basketball players Bill Hougland, Harry Gibson and Roger Morningstar.

They all came in hopes of watching KU knock off a nationally ranked opponent, No. 19 Iowa State. They all left happy and had reason to feel confident Kansas is headed for the top 25 for what would be the first time since it was No. 24 on Sept. 19, 2005, which also happened to be the same year the Jayhawks made the NCAA tournament.

“We had our Rock Chalk Choice awards a few weeks ago, recognizing the sports that did well,” senior Tayler Tolefree said. “As a team, you want to feel like you contributed to the success of the athletic department. We want to be up there.”

It’s happening. Already, Kansas has more victories against Top 50 RPI schools than it had all of last year.

In revival mode, the volleyball team is not alone on campus in that regard. Despite key injuries, women’s soccer is ranked No. 23 in the nation, its first top 25 appearance since the 2009 season.

Bonnie Henrickson’s women’s basketball squad brings more confidence into the season than ever because it has all but one key performer back from last season’s bunch that made it to the Sweet 16 following the leadership of Goodrich, a March Madness national celebrity. Bigger crowds will mean a bigger home-court advantage and this has the makings of Bonnie’s best Kansas team.

The KU women placed fourth in the country at the NCAA track and field championships and nearly every key athlete returns, including gold medalist Diamond Dixon.

For a change, Ritch Price didn’t experience the deflating feeling of watching one (or more) of his recruits sign to play professional baseball. Price’s entire rotation is back and he could have his deepest pitching staff in years.

In softball, recruiting appears on the uptick. Third baseman Chanin Naudin earned second-team All-Big 12 honors a year ago and 5-foot-1 freshman shortstop Chaley Brickey, like Naudin a Texas high school standout, is expected to make a huge immediate impact.

The Big 12, such a competitive conference, has a way of devouring hopes, but KU definitely has more going for it than in quite some time.