Kansas University volleyball coach Ray Bechard lost seven seniors from the first Sweet-16 team in program history, but all he has to do is pick up KU’s media guide to be reminded of the quality players returning from a historic 2013 run.
The prominent photo on the back of the promotional handbook features the match-point celebration that followed the Jayhawks’ second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Creighton last December at Allen Fieldhouse.
Outside hitters Tiana Dockery and Chelsea Albers, middle blocker Tayler Soucie and defensive specialist Cassie Wait all played in that crucial moment. And all four return for Bechard’s 17th season.
“I know they’re going to do a great job of mentoring the newcomers coming in,” Bechard said Thursday afternoon at KU’s fall sports media day, “as we try to continue the momentum that we’ve developed over the last couple of years. And we want that momentum to turn into a volleyball culture, and that volleyball culture to turn into a volleyball tradition. And this is a group that can certainly do that.”
The Jayhawks expect to get tested throughout the coming months, playing a schedule that includes defending national champion Penn State and two matchups with 2013 national semifinalist Texas. After back-to-back NCAA berths, Bechard said the Jayhawks now play and prepare with expectations.
“We plan each day how to make them a little more uncomfortable (at practices) to put them in a situation where the match becomes a little bit easier for them,” Bechard, the two-time reigning Big 12 Coach of the Year, said.
The rest of the conference’s coaches voted KU the No. 2 preseason team, behind defending champ Texas. Sophomore Soucie said the Jayhawks use their accolades as motivation.
“We’re excited that we’re ranked that high in the Big 12 right now,” Soucie said. “We’re working hard to prove we’re No. 1 in the Big 12, if not better.”
Soccer team fired up
After rebuilding in 2013, Kansas soccer coach Mark Francis feels excited about not only a new offensive approach, but also a fresh start for the Jayhawks at their new home field, Rock Chalk Park.
Sophomore midfielder and defender Tayler Estrada said the Jayhawks heard plenty of negative reviews regarding their former on-field home.
“It was dumpy. Just that kind of stuff,” Estrada said. “That really brings your confidence down when you go out to play a team. They don’t think that your stadium’s nice, that you don’t even deserve to have a good stadium.”
She and fellow returning standouts — seniors Jamie Fletcher and Caroline Van Slambrouck, juniors Liana Salazar and Ashley Williams and sophomore Aurélie Gagnet — will play the inaugural soccer game at Rock Chalk Park at 7 tonight versus Wyoming.
Runners look to rebuild
Eight runners return for KU’s men’s cross country program this season, led by senior Evan Landes.
Coach Stanley Redwine said the Jayhawks know what it takes to succeed.
“Our goal is to not just do well at the league meet, the conference meet (Nov. 1 at Rim Rock Farm). We want to make it to the national meet,” Redwine said.