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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

KU volleyball seeks uncharted territory

Kansas coach Ray Bechard shouts in instructions from the sideline during the Jayhawks' volleyball match against in-state rival Kansas State Wednesday evening, Sept. 23, 2015, at Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks bested the Wildcats, 3-1, and improved to 13-0 on the year.

Kansas coach Ray Bechard shouts in instructions from the sideline during the Jayhawks' volleyball match against in-state rival Kansas State Wednesday evening, Sept. 23, 2015, at Horejsi Center. The Jayhawks bested the Wildcats, 3-1, and improved to 13-0 on the year.

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It’s only fitting that a Kansas University volleyball season that featured a handful of firsts has reached the point where the Jayhawks are on the brink of another.

When No. 9 overall seed Kansas fires the first serve at Loyola-Marymount at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Sweet 16 in San Diego, the Jayhawks (28-2) will be playing for a spot in their first ever Elite Eight.

This time, however, unlike in 2013, when the Jayhawks reached their first ever Sweet 16 but were launched out of Los Angeles before they even really knew they had arrived, KU coach Ray Bechard believes his team is better position to make some noise.

“I do think any time you have a great libero, a great setter, you have good ball control and then you have a player who can go get kills at any time against anybody, it gives you a chance,” Bechard said Tuesday, one day before his team hopped on a plane for southern California. “Maybe we’re better equipped, from that sense, to go deeper into the tournament.”

Junior Cassie Wait, who enters this weekend with 513 digs on the season, is the libero Bechard spoke of, and she is one of just a couple of players on this roster who was around for KU’s last trip to the Sweet 16.

Asked what she remembered about the 2013 experience that ended with KU being swept by Final Four-bound Washington, Wait painted the picture of a team that did not quite know what to expect.

“Definitely just the fact that we can play our game,” said Wait of what she learned from her previous regional appearance. “We control what’s going on on our side of the net, fall back on what we’ve learned all season and keep doing that. If we control our side of the court, we control that first contact (and) we can play with anyone in the nation.”

Added Bechard: “Anytime you do something for the first time, there’s a little bit of road of discovery and we didn’t play our best against Washington. I think we got caught up a little bit in the style and what they were doing.”

Big 12 setter of the year Ainise Havili is one of the main reasons Bechard believes this time around could be different. Bechard called the sophomore setter a silent assassin and said that her ability to perform at a high level and compete at levels beyond that set the tone for this team all season.

Havili, who ranks second in the nation in assists per set and was a two-time Big 12 player of the week, was remarkably consistent throughout the season. She, along with sophomore outside hitter Kelsie Payne — another first-team all-Big 12 selection — led the Jayhawks to a school-record .313 hitting percentage (third in the NCAA) and also fueled an attack that ranked second nationally in kills per set at 15.4.

“I don’t think we’ve had too many peaks and valleys,” Bechard said. “That gives you hope, as a coach, that your team’s gonna show up and not lay an egg and be very competitive.”

The goal, of course, is to be more than competitive. But the Jayhawks are trying to keep things as simple as possible.

The weekly routine will be the same in terms of team meals and meetings and strategy sessions, and the hope, according to Bechard, is that the team emerges from the weekend with a 2-0 record. Sure, if that happens, it will tack two more firsts onto an already remarkable season — first Elite Eight and first Final Four. But the way this group achieved all of those others was by focusing on the smallest details — “Essential Intent” was the slogan they emphasized all season — and letting the big picture sort itself out.

“We’ve gotta be hungry,” Bechard said. “I know at home at Horejsi, there’s obviously a lot of stimuli going on and there’s not gonna be that type of crowd in San Diego, but the stakes are higher. We need to sense that, the team needs to be hungry and I think we will be.”

Jayhawk volleyball at a glance

The following is a closer look at the 16 Jayhawks who helped the Kansas University volleyball team reach its second ever Sweet 16 in NCAA Tournament play.

Today, ninth-ranked KU will head to San Diego, where it will face Loyola-Marymount at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.

1 – Anna Church

Year: Senior

Height: 5-foot-8

Position: Defensive Specialist

Hometown: Fairway, Kansas

Season highlight: Recorded 15 digs twice this season, at Oklahoma and at Kansas State.

Noteworthy: Transferred to KU from St. Louis during the offseason.

2 – Tori Miller

Year: Sophomore

Height: 5-foot-8

Position: Defensive Specialist/Libero

Hometown: Derby, Kansas

Season highlight: Recorded an ace and two digs in four sets at Oklahoma.

Noteworthy: Has competed in 10 different USA Volleyball tournaments, including winning the 2011 USAVB Show Me Junior National Qualifier.

3 – Kayla Cheadle

Height: 6-foot-1

Year: Sophomore

Position: Middle Blocker

Hometown: Columbia, Missouri

Season highlight: Finished with six kills and a .500 hitting percentage in win over South Dakota State.

Noteworthy: Twin sister Chayla plays for the KU women’s basketball team.

5 – Cassie Wait

Height: 5-foot-8

Year: Junior

Position: Libero

Hometown: Gardner, Kansas

Season highlight: Her 513 digs this season made her just the second Jayhawk in history (Bri Riley) to record 500+ digs in back-to-back seasons.

Noteworthy: Wait is the first person in her family to attend KU. Father, Darrell, and brother, Kyle, both ran track at Kansas State.

6 – Ashlyn Driskill

Year: Senior

Height: 6-foot

Position: Outside Hitter

Hometown: Valley Center, Kansas

Season highlight: Recorded three aces and five kills in a win over Western Illinois.

Noteworthy: Before coming to KU, Driskill graduated from Wichita State in three years with a chemistry degree.

7 – Tiana Dockery

Year: Senior

Height: 5-foot-10

Position: Outside Hitter

Hometown: Richmond, Texas

Season highlight: Became the first Jayhawk in school history to play in the NCAA Tournament during all four years of her career.

Noteworthy: Earned a spot on the 2012 all-Big 12 freshman team and honorable mention honors on the 2014 all-Big 12 team.

8 – Kelsie Payne

Year: Sophomore

Height: 6-foot-3

Position: Right-side Hitter

Hometown: Austin, Texas

Season highlight: Delivered a three-match stretch of 20 kills or more in early November, including recording 23 in a five-set thriller against Texas.

Noteworthy: Owns nearly a dozen school records at John B. Connally High in Austin, where she was named the District MVP as a junior and twice named to the All-District and Academic-All-District teams.

9 – Claire Carpenter

Height: 5-foot-9

Year: Sophomore

Position: Defensive Specialist/Libero

Hometown: Rockwall, Texas

Season highlight: Aced McNeese State three times in eight tries during an early-season victory.

Noteworthy: Was the team captain for her club team, Skyline Juniors, for three consecutive seasons and earned club MVP honors in 2012.

10 – Tayler Soucie

Height: 6-foot-1

Year: Junior

Position: Middle Blocker

Hometown: Osawatomie, Kansas

Season highlight: Recorded 100-plus blocks for the third consecutive season and moved into sixth place on KU’s all-time blocks list.

Noteworthy: Became one of just five Big 12 players to earn a spot on the All-Big 12 first team for the second year in a row.

11 – Ainise Havili

Height: 5-foot-10

Year: Sophomore

Position: Setter

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas

Season highlight: Named Big 12 Setter of the Year honor after leading KU’s offense to a school-record .313 hitting percentage, more than 50 points higher than the previous record of .254.

Noteworthy: Earned honorable mention All-America nod from the AVCA as a true freshman in 2014.

12 – Ashley Smith

Height: 6-foot

Year: Freshman

Position: Outside Hitter

Hometown: Las Vegas

Season highlight: Red-shirting 2015 season.

Noteworthy: Led her Shadow Ridge High Mustangs to the first state championship in school history with double-doubles in kills and digs in the regional final, state semifinal and state title match.

13 – Patricia Montero

Height: 5-foot-10

Year: Freshman

Position: Outside Hitter

Hometown: Ponce, Puerto Rico

Season highlight: Red-shirting 2015 season.

Noteworthy: Father, Efrain Montero, was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 1990 MLB Amateur Draft.

14 – Madison Rigdon

Height: 6-foot

Year: Sophomore

Position: Outside Hitter

Hometown: Pflugerville, Texas

Season highlight: Named Big 12 offensive player of the week after recording a career-best .733 hitting percentage in a win over West Virginia.

Noteworthy: Was an elite-level gymnast with Capital Gymnastics in fourth and fifth grade.

16 – Janae Hall

Height: 6-foot-1

Year: Junior

Position: Middle Blocker

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado

Season highlight: Recorded seven blocks and seven kills in a September victory over Northern Colorado.

Noteworthy: Father, Darryl, played for the NFL’s Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers during an 11-year pro career.

19 – Maggie Anderson

Height: 5-foot-8

Year: Junior

Position: Setter

Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska

Season highlight: Served successfully while facing three straight set points in the third set of last week’s second-round victory over Missouri. Thanks to Anderson’s serving touch, KU went on to sweep the Tigers and won the third set, 27-25.

Noteworthy: Red-shirted in 2012 and has become known, both in matches and in practice drills, as the player the Jayhawks would want on the line in a tough serving situation.

20 – Addison Barry

Height: 5-foot-4

Year: Sophomore

Position: Defensive Specialist/Libero

Hometown: Topeka

Season highlight: Recorded six digs and a perfect 1.000 serve percentage in Sunflower Showdown victory over Kansas State in Lawrence.

Noteworthy: Nicknamed “Addie,” Barry won Hayden High’s 2010 Hayden Award, which goes to one male and one female per grade based upon excellence in all phases of student life: academics, spiritual life, activities and athletics.

Comments

David Kelley-Wood 6 years, 1 month ago

This is going to be fun. All the best, ladies!

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