For the third year in a row, the Kansas University volleyball team will be leaving the cozy confines of rocking-and-rolling Horejsi Family Athletics Center to play its most important matches of the season in unfamiliar territory.
During the last two years, that meant moving a few dozen feet to the east to host NCAA Tournament matches in Allen Fieldhouse. But with the KU men’s basketball team set to host Florida at Allen Fieldhouse on Friday night, these Jayhawks will be forced to take their show 28 miles west to Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre, where the No. 16 overall seed Jayhawks (22-8 overall) will play host to Arkansas-Little Rock (29-4) in a first-round game at 6:30 Friday night.
Despite being forced to make the mini-road trip, there’s no whining coming out of the KU camp as it prepares for an unprecedented third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
“No. None at all,” KU coach Ray Bechard said before Tuesday’s practice. “The positives far outweigh anything that we need to transition into.”
Throughout the past several seasons, the Jayhawks have made Horejsi one of the most electric places on KU’s campus on game nights. The 1,300-seat arena, which falls about 700 seats shy of being deemed worthy to host an NCAA Tournament event, is routinely packed with die-hard volleyball fans and a pep band that adds to the atmosphere.
Just because the walls surrounding them will be different on Friday — and Saturday if the Jayhawks advance — does not mean the Jayhawks will be any less jacked about taking the court with a chance to add to a couple of new chapters to their recent run of success.
“We’d love to play in Horejsi or the fieldhouse, but that’s not gonna happen,” Bechard admitted. “But the administration stepped up and made it happen over in Topeka, which is far better than going into a seeded-team’s place and having to beat them on their home floor. We’re still gonna have more fans than everybody else, we’re gonna get over there to practice, and the travel on us is going to be easier than on everybody else.”
The Jayhawks were the last of the 16 seeded teams in this year’s field given the opportunity to host.
That fact alone, which made official KU’s sixth-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, was enough for the team that finished in a second-place tie in the Big 12 Conference to feel overjoyed about any opportunity that came its way, regardless of the logistics.
“Obviously, getting the opportunity to play in the tournament at all is amazing and so worth all the hard work,” said sophomore libero Cassie Wait, who twice played state tournament matches at the Expocentre while at Gardner-Edgerton High. “Playing in Topeka is going to be just as awesome.”
Added Bechard, more concisely: “It’s still a big deal.”
KU volleyball NCAA Tournament history
2003 (1-1) — First appearance in school history included a victory over Long Beach State and a loss to top-seeded Pepperdine
2004 (1-1) — A year later, Kansas knocked off Santa Clara before falling to Washington in five sets
2005 (0-1) — KU slipped in with a .500 record and was bounced by UCLA in the opening round
2012 (1-1) — Hosting for the first time ever, KU topped Cleveland State in Allen Fieldhouse before losing to Wichita State in the second round
2013 (2-1) — Back in Allen Fieldhouse for the second year in a row, KU rolled past Wichita State and Creighton before falling to Washington in the program’s first-ever trip to the Sweet 16