Women's college volleyball starts up for the Jayhawks on Friday, August 28, as they travel to Fayetteville, AR, for the Arkansas Tournament. The Jayhawks look to continue to build the volleyball program into a national power, and seek their fourth NCAA Tournament in a row, a feat that has never been accomplished by KU (in 40 years of playing volleyball).
The Jayhawks (22-9, 10-6) earned a national seed and hosted first and second round matches for the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row. KU overcame an 0-3 start to conference play to finish the Big 12 in a three-way tie for second with Iowa State and Oklahoma, behind first-place Texas. KU led the league in kills and finished second in assists and digs. KU sold-out seven home matches while ranking 31st in the NCAA in attendance. KU finished #11 in the RPI.
Head coach Ray Bechard enters his 18th year as the leader of the volleyball program. He is the winningest coach in KU volleyball history and a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year (2012, 2013). While at KU, Bechard is 295-226 and has 13 winning seasons.
The Jayhawks lose only two seniors off of last year's squad. Unfortunately, Chelsea Albers and Sara McClinton were the top two Jayhawks in terms of kills. Both were four-year starters for KU, and both received All-Big 12 recognition multiple times as Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks return four starters and 12 letterwinners from last year's squad. Sophomore setter Anise Havili returns to set up junior Tayler Soucie and senior Tiana Dockery, with junior libero Cassie Wait in the backcourt. Havili was an All-America Honorable mention in 2014; Wait started all 31 matches in 2014 at libero and became only the third Jayhawk to register more than 500 digs in a season. Last year's recruiting class ranked #15 in the country, and their maturation will be key to providing quality depth on this year's squad.
KU added two transfers in the offseason. Wichita State senior transfer Ashlyn Driskill brings experience and leadership with her after three seasons at WSU. She has appeared in 91 career matches and ranked third on her team in kills in 2014. Originally from Valley Center, KS, look for Driskill to see time on the front row this fall and make an immediate impact.
Saint Louis University senior transfer Anna Church also brings plenty of experience with her to Lawrence after ranking third in the A-10 Conference last year in digs. Originally from Fairway, KS, look for Church to help solidify the back row for Kansas.
In addition to the two transfers, Coach Bechard brought in two freshmen to the program. Ashley Smith, of Las Vegas, NV, and Patricia Montero, of Puerto Rico, are both outside hitters. Smith was a four-year starter in high school and was named to the 2014 Under Armor All-American Watch List. Meanwhile, Montero, by all accounts, has an impressive vertical with great explosiveness, and was rated as the 14th-best scorer in the world after leading the Puerto Rice national team in the U18 Pan American Cup. We won't be seeing Montero this fall, however, as she will be redshirting due to a knee injury.
The additions of Driskill and Church gives the Jayhawks only three seniors on the roster, meaning KU is still a very young team, with a core of seven sophomores. Coach Bechard is cognizant of the gap between Texas and the rest of the conference, and while he is proud of his program's back-to-back second place finishes, knows there's still room for improvement.
If you follow KU Volleyball on Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, you may see the word "Unprecedented" being used often. As mentioned earlier, the Jayhawks are looking to go to their fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Should they accomplish that feat, senior Tiana Dockery will become the first player in program history to play in four NCAA Tournaments.
The Jayhawks have quite the gauntlet in front of them to run through if they want to make program history. All but four of KU's opponents in 2015 were top-100 RPI teams a year ago; eight teams on the schedule made the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
It's definitely going to be tough sledding for the Jayhawks in 2015; we'll find out real soon if they're up to the task at hand. The seven sophomores on the roster all saw significant playing time in 2014 - the roster is loaded with talent and experience. Will that be enough to overcome the schedule?
I say yes. The preseason polls predict KU to finish fourth behind Texas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma. However - call me a homer - I think the Jayhawks will finish in sole possession of second place behind Texas this fall, in the process earning a national seed and hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament once again.
Follow the Jayhawks
All of KU's home matches will be available on ESPN3. In addition, KU's matchup at Iowa State on October 28 will be nationally broadcast on ESPNU.
You can listen to every match for free online courtesy of KUAthletics at www.kuathletics.com/radio.