My initial reaction when informed that women’s athletics at the University of Kansas turn 50 this school year was, “Only 50?”
Yes, only 50.
In 1968, KU women’s athletics started with basketball, field hockey, gymnastics, softball, swimming and volleyball.
Marlene Mawson started the women’s program with an annual budget of $2,000 to cover equipment and travel, according to a release put out by the athletic department.
KU has no shortage of superstar athletes to call attention to the anniversary this fall.
Volleyball seniors Kelsie Payne and Ainise Havili, the leaders of KU’s 2015 Final Four team, are two-time All-Americans. Cross country junior Sharon Lokedi won the Big 12 championship last season and placed a KU-best fifth at the 2016 NCAA championships in cross country.
KU’s soccer team was picked to finish second behind West Virginia in the preseason Big 12 soccer poll.
No Kansas player made the 11-deep preseason All-Big 12 team, which included a record six players from West Virginia.
Grace Hagan earned All-Big 12 honors in soccer last season, when she ranked fifth in the conference with seven goals and 18 points, but surprisingly didn’t earn preseason honors.
KU opens its soccer season Friday night against Nebraska at Rock Chalk Park, first touch 7 p.m. The KU players will wear during pregame warmup a commemorative T-shirt to honor 50 years of women’s sports. All KU female athletes will wear the T-shirts during warmups this season.
Kansas had a couple of advantages over other schools recruiting junior-college cornerback Shakial Taylor.
For one thing, one of his happiest football memories came in Lawrence. He played for South Dakota State, an FCS school that defeated KU, 41-38, in the 2015 season-opener at Memorial Stadium, David Beaty’s debut as a college head coach, Taylor’s as a college football player.
“I really was thinking we were going to lose, but once the game got going, I felt like we had that edge and we could win,” Taylor said. “It was just an amazing experience, being at a D-I Double-A playing against a power-five school, crazy experience.”
KU coaches had easy access to video from that game and took advantage of it.
“During the recruiting process they actually went back and watched all the plays I played against them, so that was great,” Taylor said. “They said I had a good game. I was a young guy so I had a couple of errors as well. I actually had a big play in that game. They tried to throw a fade ball to the tight end and it was incomplete. That was a big play on my end as a true freshman.”
Going over those plays gave KU’s coaches a feel for Taylor’s knowledge of the position he plays.
KU also had the advantage of available playing time, since both starting cornerbacks had exhausted their eligibility.
Linebackers coach Todd Bradford was the first to watch Taylor at a junior-college practice and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry quickly became involved in recruiting him.
Taylor transferred to Kansas at semester break but an injury sidelined him from most of spring practice.
Dangerously inexperienced at corner, Kansas will need a healthy season from Taylor and fellow juco transfer Hasan Defense.
This will be the third school in three years for Taylor, who spent last season at Mesa Community College. Changing addresses won’t intimidate him. He made it work at a much younger age.
Taylor said he didn’t like the direction his life was heading at the age of 16 — for one thing, he had stopped playing football — so he took up his uncle, Robert Nelson, on his invitation to come live with him in Tempe, Ariz.
It was a generous offer by Nelson, given all that he already had on his plate as a junior on the Arizona State football team. A cornerback for the Houston Texans, Nelson is entering his fourth NFL season.
“I was 16, 17 and he was 21, 22,” Taylor said. “He had to take care of two grown men, so it was definitely a struggle, but at the end of the day it definitely paid off.”
Taylor said he went to Arizona State’s home games and accompanied his uncle when he went to ASU’s practice facilities to work on drills on off days. He said he also met all of Arizona State’s coaches and attended pro day to watch his uncle perform for NFL scouts.
“He showed me a lot of things at a young age so now that I’m at this platform I know what to expect and what to do,” Taylor said. “He told me how to use my eyes and what to study in the film room. He said studying receivers on film is how you make a lot of money. Film, film, film. I’m studying how our receivers run their routes. Say they line up with right foot like this, they run that route, they run with their left foot like that, they’ll run that certain route. Stuff like that.”
Taylor stayed with and trained with his uncle in Arizona during the break between the end of school and beginning of summer conditioning.
“This past summer, we had a break and I was going to work out here, but he told me to come to Dallas because he'd be out there training with other NFL guys,” Taylor said. “I got some work in with him.”
For the next two years, Taylor will call Lawrence home and is determined to send visitors home in a lousier mood than and he and teammates were in for their bus ride back to Brookings, S.D.
The Kansas volleyball team, ranked eighth in the nation in the preseason poll, coming off its first conference title in school history and armed with key seniors who as sophomores played in the Final Four, caught a tough break this week.
Sophomore outside hitter Patricia Montero from Ponce, Puerto Rico, suffered an ACL injury and will be lost for the season, coach Ray Bechard revealed Wednesday. Bechard said the versatile Montero had been performing as well as anyone on the roster during preseason practices. Montero was one of five players who played in all 30 matches for the Jayhawks last season and started in half of them.
“She’s somebody who can do a little bit of everything,” Bechard said. “She has a nice jump serve, she plays the back row well, she could attack, passes well, blocks well. She’s a six-rotation player and those are very difficult to find in volleyball.”
Despite the loss of Montero, the Jayhawks, led by All-Americans Kelsie Payne and Ainise Havili, will remain a fashionable pick to reach the Final Four, which will be in Sprint Center in Kansas City this Dec. 14-16.
"There are 25 teams in the country who think they can get there," Bechard said. "Now we have to (focus on) 'What is it about us that we can do on a daily basis to be one of the teams that gets there?'"
Anthony Collins, Aqib Talib going up on Ring of Honor and into KU Athletic Hall of Fame with Mark Mangino
First-team All-Americans Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins will go up on the KU Ring of Honor and they and former head coach Mark Mangino will be inducted as individuals into the University of Kansas athletic Hall of Fame, the school announced this morning. The entire 2007 team that won the Orange Bowl will go into the Hall as well and the team is being honored during the Sept. 2 season-opener vs. Southeast Missouri State.
Kansas went 12-1 and defeated Virginia Tech, 24-21, in the Orange Bowl.
Collins and Talib join Nolan Cromwell, Bobby Douglass, Ray Evans, John Hadl, David Jaynes, Bruce Kallmeyer, Curtis McClinton, Mike McCormack, George Mrkonic, Willie Pless, Gil Reich, John Riggins, Gale Sayers, Otto Schnellbacher, Oliver Spencer and John Zook on the Ring of Honor.
If not for a toe injury that sidelined him for four games in the middle of the season, Khalil Herbert might have made a bigger impact as a true freshman in 2016. As it was, Herbert left a positive impression. He showed his break-away speed on a 66-yard touchdown run at Memphis and generally had the look of a running back who has a natural feel for how to use his blockers.
As frequently as Kansas is expected to pass under new offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, the running backs who can pass-protect and develop into receiving threats stand the best chance to make it onto the field. Herbert has strong potential in both areas.
"I've seen him on film," Meacham said. "He looks like this just tiny dude, but he's actually a rocked-up guy, a bigger, thicker guy. For some reason, he puts pads on and he looks smaller."
A sophomore out of Coral Gables, Fla., Herbert stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 200 pounds. His ability to run with pads low to the ground could be a factor in him looking smaller on film. Plus, it makes him a smaller target and gains him extra yards because when he's brought down, he falls forward. His speed is just one factor that gives him a chance to develop into a productive pass-catcher out of the backfield.
"Khalil has such smooth hands," head coach David Beaty said. "He could play receiver if he needed to."
In trying to guess which running back will lead the team in rushing yards, Herbert certainly deserves high mention in that conversation, along with Taylor Martin, and if he can get up to speed on all the responsibilities that come with the position and prove he's not a ball-security risk, Dom Williams could force his way into the conversation as well.
"Khalil continues to improve," Beaty said. "Great vision, smooth feet, very patient, getting even more patient, which is good."
Said Meacham: "He's just a guy you can trust. You put him in and he's going to do it right and he's going to do it full speed."
Herbert averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season and stood out in the classroom, earning Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team honors.
Gary Woodland’s work with Butch Harmon has enabled him to tame his driver this season to the extent he’s confident using it on more holes than he was in the past. Harmon also has helped Woodland find dial in precise distances for shots into the green. This season has marked a step forward for Woodland in every area but his putting.
Woodland might have won the Canadian Open in a playoff had he finished his fourth round better with his putter. On the final two holes he missed a 6-footer and 5-footer and fell two strokes shy of a playoff. The average PGA tour player makes 65 percent of his 6-footers and 75 percent from 5 feet. That calculates to 49 percent of the players making both, 42 percent making one and missing one and 9 percent missing both. That’s taking into account all putts, not just high-pressure ones, so the numbers probably go down under the sort of pressure Woodland faced. Either way, it was a tough outcome for a player who was striking the ball so well under pressure.
In 2011, when Woodland had as hot a putting streak as he’s had in his career he was working with noted putter Brad Faxon. Woodland called Faxon earlier this week to talk putting and he sought out Steve Stricker on Tuesday at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. Smart move. Woodland stroked just 25 putts on his way to a 3-under 68 in Thursday’s opening round.
“You could have made a lot of money betting that Jordan Spieth would drive the ball better than Sergio Garcia and Gary Wooldand would putt better than Spieth,” Brandel Chamblee said during the Golf Channel’s terrific coverage of the fourth major. “Those were the two biggest surprises of the day.”
Woodland entered today tied for third place. He tees off for the second round right … now.
Typically, when a college football program in rebuilding mode tries to upgrade its talent and lands a four-star recruit, the coaches grow edgy, fearing that a more established program will swoop in at the last minute to obtain the prospect’s signature on a letter of intent.
That certainly was the case with four-star running back Dom Williams out of McKinney, Texas, who played for Independence High in Frisco.
A speedy, shifty, 5-foot-10, 190-pound back, Williams was ranked by Rivals as the 17th-best running back in the Class of 2017. A four-time all-district and three-time first-team Class 5A all-state selection, Williams rushed for 1,928 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior. He never wavered in his commitment to Kansas and Kansas head coach David Beaty remains high on his potential.
“Man, I just got off the field and watched Dom Williams do some stuff that you don’t see young guys do very often,” Beaty said Saturday. “He’s talented. this dude can run. Great vision, great balance. We hit on him. There’s no doubt about that. I mean, he’s going to play.”
That doesn’t mean Williams, who wears No. 25, will start his career at the top of the depth chart at running back. It does mean he will have a shot to work his way to the top if he makes the most of the carries he receives. Beaty said he “needs to get better at the passing-game part of it.”
Beaty sounded extremely enthusiastic about Williams’ talent, but it’s Beaty’s nature to highlight what he likes about people. He also spoke highly of returning backs Taylor Martin and Khalil Herbert and walk-on Deron Thompson, a transfer from Colorado State.
“A lot of the running back stuff is they’re just instinctive, make guys miss and score,” offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said. “Their biggest mental load is obviously protection.”
Developing as a pass-blocker can limit the time freshmen running backs spend on the field, as can their tendency to fumble as compared to more experienced players.
If Williams proves a quick learner in those areas and in becoming a more sound receiver, that will carve a path that leads to more carries.
Meacham mentioned one trait about Williams that caught his eye when he said he had, “some natural shake that can make you miss.”
Nobody ever called first-year Kansas offensive coordinator Doug Meacham a low-energy personality. He's always up, forever looking for the next task to tackle. He's unconventional in many ways — he rides a Vespa to work from his downtown residence — but he has a lot in common with many football coaches in that he clearly loves his job.
To drive Meacham to a new level of enthusiasm merely mention two words, one name: Ben Johnson. Not the Canadian sprinter, the Kansas senior tight end.
"Ben Johnson's a really good player, man," Meacham said. "I had a kid at Oklahoma State named Brandon Pettigrew, who was a first-rounder. I’m not saying Ben’s a first-rounder, but Ben is kind of what those guys (NFL scouts) look for, I think."
Pettigrew played seven seasons for the Detroit Lions. The way Meacham sees it, Johnson's versatility will be his ticket to a spot on an NFL roster.
"He can do all the special teams," Meacham said. "He can set the edge, block, and he’s a really athletic, route-running guy; great set of hands and ball skills."
For now, Meacham is excited about how Johnson can be used in his final season at Kansas.
"I don’t think you could design a better guy for what we do because he plays fullback, he plays tight end and he plays receiver," Meacham said. "Man, he’s just so versatile, and all the special-teams stuff, so he’s going to get a lot of plays. I’m really excited about him. He makes you want to play that position, have that in the game plan, because he’s such a good player.”
For as many as three starters on this season’s Kansas football team, their high school and college home football fields are just 3.8 miles apart.
Joe Dineen has one starting linebacker spot locked up. Keith Loneker Jr. stands a good chance of securing the other. And Bryce Torneden is battling Tyrone Miller for the starting safety job opposite Mike Lee.
A sophomore, Torneden played quarterback and defensive back at Free State High and originally committed to North Dakota State as a running back. Kansas offered him a scholarship somewhat late in the process and he proved worthy of that by gaining playing time as a true freshman.
Torneden started at nickelback against West Virginia last season and knows enough about that position to play there again this season if needed, but has been used as a safety during fall camp. Derrick Neal and Kyle Mayberry are competing at the nickel spot.
The coaching staff gives him high grades for smarts and he knows how to use his muscular, 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame efficiently.
I asked Lee to name other hard hitters on the team and Torneden was the first name he mentioned. A Lee-Torneden safety tandem would leave opposing ballcarriers and receivers reaching for ice bags after the game.
If Torneden can prove he can cover as capably as Miller he’ll win the starting nod because of his strong play against the run. If he’s second on the depth chart, he’ll play plenty and maintain the positive attitude he brings to the practice field on a daily basis.
He’s not one who is playing football simply because he has the physical traits to be good at it. Torneden loves the game and it shows in the way he plays it as both a defensive back and special-teams contributor.
A sharp new feature of the outside wall of the north end of Memorial Stadium almost is been completed. The wall is decorated with banners made from action photos of a dozen Kansas football greats.
Dorance Armstrong is the only current player with a banner. The 11 recent former players, 10 from the Mark Mangino era: Dezmon Briscoe, Anthony Collins, Charles Gordon, Chris Harris, Ben Heeney, Kerry Meier, Todd Reesing, Nick Reid, JaCorey Shepherd, Darrell Stuckey and Aqib Talib. Shepherd was recruited to Kansas when Turner Gill was head coach, played one season for Gill at wide receiver, then was moved to cornerback by Charlie Weis.
As of Monday afternoon, only the Reesing banner had not gone up on the wall.
The wall also features the three football players whose jerseys were retired by Kansas: Ray Evans, John Hadl and Gale Sayers.