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Thursday, November 25, 2021

Stakes are high for Kansas volleyball in regular season finale at Kansas State this weekend

Kansas senior Jenny Mosser serves the ball during the Jayhawks' five-set loss to No. 1 Texas on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.

Kansas senior Jenny Mosser serves the ball during the Jayhawks' five-set loss to No. 1 Texas on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.

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In case facing in-state rival Kansas State in the regular season finale was not already big enough, the Kansas volleyball team has a couple of others carrots it’s chasing this weekend in Manhattan.

Still fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2017, the Jayhawks likely need at least one win to get in. A sweep of the Wildcats would almost guarantee it and getting swept might knock them out.

Rather than overemphasizing any of that, though, KU coach Ray Bechard said his team was trying to stay locked in on every point and seeing where that mindset takes them.

“I opened up practice (Monday) with, ‘Hey, all our goals are still right in front of us,’” Bechard said this week. “One of the goals was top 3 in the Big 12 and another was the NCAA Tournament. Obviously winning night 1 would be huge. But you can’t twist yourself in the ground if you don’t because it’s a two-match series.”

The generally accepted thought in college volleyball is that teams in the top 40 of the RPI rankings should feel pretty good about their postseason chances. Those that sit above 40 tend to sweat a little more when the selection show begins, which is scheduled for 7:30 pm. Sunday on ESPNU.

The Jayhawks (14-11 overall, 6-8 Big 12) are currently at No. 39 in the RPI, while Kansas State (15-10, 6-8) sits at No. 35.

Two wins by the Jayhawks this weekend could lead to the two programs flip-flopping spots. At that point, the Jayhawks would be in position to finish as high as third in the conference — behind Texas and Baylor — and would move into Sunday with a little more confidence in their postseason fate.

But even if they just earn a split, Bechard believes his team has done enough to be invited to join the postseason fun.

“A couple of things are different this year,” he said when comparing this team to the 2018 team that finished No. 46 in the RPI rankings as was the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament bracket. “Right now, we’ve got the No. 8 strength of schedule in the country and the Big 12’s the No. 1-ranked RPI conference in the country.”

As is the case with the basketball tournament, the selection committee also considers how teams are playing heading into the postseason. And, with the Jayhawks sweeping TCU last weekend, a strong showing at Kansas State would add to KU’s resume in that area, as well.

The Wildcats enter this weekend having lost three of their last four matches, including back-to-back sweeps by Texas in Austin last week.

But Texas has done that to plenty of teams and Bechard knows the Wildcats will be a formidable foe.

“They’re a good team,” he said. “And they’ve got a little more experience than we do. We’re just trying to focus on one point at a time and see where that takes us.”

Both matches are slated for 6:30 p.m. and will be televised by Big 12 Now via ESPN+.

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