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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Kansas volleyball’s Top 10 recruiting class has coach Ray Bechard eyeing bounce-back season

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard gives instruction to his players during the first set on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard gives instruction to his players during the first set on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.

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The Kansas volleyball team is ready to unveil its rebuilt roster this fall, and head coach Ray Bechard could not be more excited about the names on the list.

After losing a handful of players from last year’s team, both to graduation and the transfer portal, Bechard and his coaching staff set out to fill the vacant spots with tough, dynamic and dedicated players who could make the 2019 team’s 9-17 season more of a bump in the road than a sign of things to come.

In all, 10 newcomers will be with the Jayhawks this fall, joining seven returning players on a roster packed with potential.

Seven of those 10 new faces will be freshmen and the other three come in the form of high-impact transfers from Power 5 programs Mississippi State, Nebraska and UCLA.

“We’re pretty pumped about this group,” Bechard told the Journal-World on Thursday.

Bechard calls himself the “Zoom Captain” these days, and he participates in no fewer than seven Zoom calls a week — three with his team, two with his coaching staff, one with his Big 12 peers and another with KU’s compliance department. And that’s just the regular routine. There occasionally have been more.

But they’ve all been worth it, Bechard said, because he believes it’s a key part of the process of having the volleyball season as currently scheduled.

“You know how fluid this whole deal is,” said Bechard of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on college athletics. “And we’re going to have to have a lot of protocol in place. But right now our plan is, yeah, we’re going to play volleyball this fall.”

With an allowance of eight hours per week of virtual contact with his players, along with restrictions on what that can include, Bechard said he and his assistants have focused a lot on mental health and physical conditioning this spring.

“Obviously we can’t coach them or have that physical interaction,” he said. “But we’re trying to create things for them to look forward to and ways to keep them engaged.”

Included on that list is film review, guest speakers, talk about the playbook and terminology and even breakdown of a book the team is reading together.

“They’re not going to touch the volleyball as much as we would like,” Bechard said. “But if they can stay at pretty good levels of physical and mental health, the other stuff will take care of itself.”

Because of the fact that everything from a start date to final scheduling remains up in the air, Bechard knows he and his team will have to be patient.

But working through the challenges of the pandemic have kept Bechard’s mind occupied. Just last week, KU tweaked its 2020 schedule to get out of a season-opening tournament it would have flown to so it could get into a higher-level event that can be reached by bus ride.

“There’s going to be a lot of that kind of thing,” Bechard said of pandemic-inspired adjustments made by universities and programs all across the country.

Seeing the praise heaped onto his recruiting class has helped him stay energized.

Volley High has KU’s 2020 recruiting class ranked as the 10th best in the nation, and PrepVolleyball.com ranks the Kansas class 11th.

“And that doesn’t even include our three transfers,” Bechard noted. “This group covers a lot of different positions for us and a lot of different needs.”

Those new faces, along with KU’s returning talent, likely will not be back in Lawrence until August. But when they arrive, Bechard said the focus for the entire program would be on moving forward “full speed ahead.”

“The trick will be how we’re going to put this all together in the short time we’ll have before the season starts,” Bechard said.

Here’s a quick look at the 10 new faces that will fill Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena this fall.

The group will join returning Jayhawks Kennedy Farris (sophomore defensive specialist), Rachel Langs (junior middle blocker), Sara Nielsen (senior setter), Gracie Van Driel (sophomore middle blocker), Riley Foltz (redshirt freshman outside hitter), Audri Suter (junior defensive specialist) and Lacey Angello (junior defensive specialist) to make up the 2020 KU roster.

• Caroline Crawford – Freshman middle blocker from Lansing High

Crawford played the first three seasons of her prep career in Liberty, Mo., and started for the youth national team that won a gold medal last year.

• Ayah Elnady – Freshman outside hitter from Cairo, Egypt

The KU coaching staff discovered Elnady while watching film of Crawford on the international scene. A few weeks after seeing her play, the staff received an email about her interest in coming to the United States and it quickly worked to secure her commitment.

• Elise McGhie – Freshman setter from St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Mo.

McGhie is known as a cerebral player, and Bechard said she is very interested in how the game works and why. She’ll have the opportunity to learn from Nielsen.

• Jenny Mosser – Senior outside hitter from UCLA

A graduate transfer who played in 90 matches and 320 sets at UCLA from 2017-19, Mosser is a six-rotation player who Bechard said will bring a lot to the roster both as a player and a leader. She earned AVCA/Under Armour First Team All-American honors as a senior at Lakeville South High in Minnesota.

• Kaiti Parks – Freshman middle blocker from Olathe Northwest High

Parks is known for her relentless motor and work ethic, and Bechard said she has the potential to be the type of player who can inspire the entire roster to reach new heights. Parks has a brother who plays on the Kansas football team.

• Karli Schmidt – Freshman outside hitter from Lansing High

A four-time all-state player and the Class 5A Kansas player of the year in 2019, Schmidt has some serious potential and hopes to follow in the footsteps of a player that Bechard called “maybe the best six-rotation player we’ve had in the history of Kansas volleyball,” in Madison Rigdon.

• Molly Schultz – Freshman defensive specialist/libero from Rockford (Minn.) High

Tough, athletic and powered by what Bechard called “an unbelievable motor,” the first-team all-state selection is known for her enthusiasm and defense.

• Paige Shaw – Junior outside hitter from Mississippi State

Shaw joined the Jayhawks in January after two seasons and more than 200 sets during her freshman and sophomore seasons at Mississippi State. A native of Hoover, Ala., Shaw was rated as the No. 1 prospect on AL.com’s A-List heading into her senior season of high school.

• Anezka Szabo – Junior outside hitter from Nebraska

Originally from Sioux Falls, S.D., this 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter played alongside All-American lefty Jazz Sweet at Nebraska before deciding to transfer to Kansas. Her father, Brett Szabo, played for the NBA’s Boston Celtics during the 1996-97 season. She joined the KU roster in January.

• Kim Whetstone – Freshman middle blocker from Bonner Springs High

Athletic, versatile and full of potential to impact the lineup in a number of ways, Whetstone is a four-time PrepVolleyball.com All-American.

Comments

David Kelley-Wood 1 week, 6 days ago

Good grief, sounds like we're loaded. Can hardly wait.

Dirk Medema 1 week, 6 days ago

Thanks for the article. I recall that the team struggled last year but not that so many left. Does sound like lots of great players.

Layne Pierce 1 week, 6 days ago

We lost some very good players to transfer route also, Rachel Hickman, Camryn Ennis, Morgan Christon. And frankly this team has collapsed at the end of the last 3 years. Yes, last year's 9-17, was brutal, including a 12 match losing streak, but the year before we were only 15-12 and the year before that 22-8, but also ended conference play with a losing streak.

Let's hope Coach Bechard has it figured out.

RCJH

David Kelley-Wood 1 week, 6 days ago

Yep, let's hope so. 2017 was former Assistant Coach Laura "Bird" Kuhn's last year of seven years with the program. She's had two seasons as Head Coach at Texas A&M (1st season: 17-13; 2nd season: 23-8). Her departure and our program's 'retrenchment' seem more than coincidental.

Layne Pierce 1 week, 6 days ago

Also David, interestingly enough, both Camryn Ennis and Morgan Christon transferred to A&M.

RCJH

Bville Hawk 1 week, 6 days ago

Thanks for the VB column, Matt.

The proof on this season will be how many players transfer after the season. Transfers out have killed us the last 2 seasons and really we only got 1 decent transfer in (Sara Nielsen). Jada Burse (1st team all Big 12 outside hitter after her junior year) departed 2 years ago, and then as Layne mentioned above we lost 2 starters (Ennis and Christon) after last season. Both of whom transferred to Texas A&M and Laura Kuhn;

A&M and Creighton are 2 programs I like to compare ours to, Creighton lost no one after last season to transfer and A&M lost 1 that I think was actually a case of early graduation and moving on in her life.

Coach B needs to get a handle on why our good players are leaving our program.

Waylon Cook 1 week, 6 days ago

Wow. I had no idea. One thing about Bechard is he has had success, bump in road, then got successful again. Hopefully these players gel quickly.

The ones who transferred to A&M is understandable. They were recruited by an outstanding recruiter in Kuhn, she likely was reason they came to KU. The relationship lasting makes sense. Transfers happen today in all sports, pretty much at every school. Talent is babied throughout careers(and kids now play year round) and it just is what it is. The NCAA has not helped this either. I do not feel someone should be trapped somewhere they don't want to be, but they shouldn't be able to bolt just "because". There has to be a happy-medium of sorts. What is it? I have no clue!

Excited to see how this works out!

Bville Hawk 1 week, 6 days ago

Waylon, except I don't think either Ennis or Christon were recruited to KU by Bird. Ennis was a freshman in 2018 and Christon a freshman in 2019. Ennis possibly, but not Christon for sure. To be fair, I was told that Ennis had decided to major in veterinary medicine so that at least partially explains her reasoning. Maybe.

Layne Pierce 1 week, 5 days ago

Bville Great to see your comments.
I know we all hope for the very best with this year's volleyball team, but that means not only getting new talented players but utilizing those players in the most efficient way and developing the players to be even better, while at the same time protecting their egos as much as possible.

The last 3 years that has not been the case.

RCJH

Bville Hawk 1 week, 5 days ago

Hi Layne, I'm skeptical because I don't know how recruiting classes are ranked. Also, I am like you in that I think this coaching staff has seriously underachieved the last 2-3 seasons.

Time will tell. At this point I am not renewing my season tickets until I see that this annual exodus of top talent has been slowed. If we are going to continue to be a Triple A farm team for Texas A&M or Arizona State (Burse) or NC State (Mmachi Nwoke) then it's time to make a change in the coaching staff.

You have pointed out in the past that Bechard's recruiting is reminiscent of Ted Owens', a good class every 3 or 4 years along with a good team every 3 or 4 years. In between it was mediocrity at best.

Chris Condren 1 week, 4 days ago

Bechard struggled in mediocrity for years until a great assistant built a powerhouse team. She left then the program collapsed despite brand new facilities. There is no stability on the roster. Boatloads to new faces do not mean instant success. Bechard must win this season or the KUAD should retire him.

Chris Condren 1 week, 4 days ago

I am not confident the KUAD will make it happen. At KU losing is usually rewarded with a new contract.

Chris Condren 1 week, 4 days ago

And Matt Tait knows that rolling nearly the roster is no blueprint for a bounce back year. He should be honest with the readers.

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