Tuesday afternoon, women’s volleyball coach Ray Bechard met with members of the media. Below are what I thought were some of Bechard’s more interesting comments (along with my reaction, of course). The full transcript is available at KUAthletics.com.
The Jayhawks open the season Friday, August 26 at Mississippi State. The first home match is Friday, September 2, but you can catch the Jayhawks in the Crimson & Blue scrimmage on Saturday, August 20, at 1 PM in the Horejsi Center.
As I found out earlier this week when I tried to order single-game tickets, the Horejsi Center is sold out for volleyball this fall. KU Athletics will not be offering single-game tickets to volleyball, so if you want to go, they told me StubHub is your best shot.
I've never been around a senior group that represents the culture that we want, what it means to be a Jayhawk and has meant more to the program from the type of teammates, the type of people they are than Cassie Wait, Tayler Soucie and Maggie Anderson. We are excited to have those three back for one more go-around.
These are the only three seniors on KU's roster this fall. Wait will be the starting libero, Soucie will start on the front row, and Anderson is the backup setter and could be one of the first back row players off the bench, in addition to being a situational serving specialist.
There are good pieces back, but when you lose a Janae Hall, Tiana Dockery, there are holes to fill too. Tiana was a six-rotation player, meaning that she played all around and she did all the skills. She served, passed, dug, attacked, blocked, and right now we've got choices there. We've got Ashley Smith, a redshirt freshman, Patricia Montero, a redshirt freshman and we've got Jada Burse, a freshman from DeSoto, Texas, but none of those three have ever played a collegiate volleyball match. They are very capable so we're excited about seeing how that competition plays out.
Tiana Dockery is a huge loss for the Jayhawks; she is the only starter from last year not returning. In fact, prior to the Final Four match last December against Nebraska, I correctly predicted (#humblebrag) that Kansas would go as Dockery went. Unfortunately, she had one of her worst games, probably of her Kansas career, and the Jayhawks fell in four sets.
FYI, Patricia Montero was highly recruited out of high school, but tore an ACL last summer, forcing a redshirt.
One of the best teams we'll play all year will be our match at Creighton. They were a Sweet 16 team last year, and they have everybody back. Kirsten (Bernthal Booth) has done a great job up there and they're going to be really, really good.
Then onto Purdue from the Big Ten. Perennial power in Purdue. Xavier, who we will play in West Lafayette, is a very good team as well.
I wouldn't call the non-conference slate loaded, but it's not a cupcake schedule either. There are challenges out there for Kansas, including road matches at Creighton and Purdue, both preseason Top 20 teams.
We get to a Big 12 Conference slate and coaches always say, 'Oh it's the best it's ever going to be,' but we've never had so many good upperclassmen in our league that we have this year. Texas, who is the preseason No. 2; K-State has a bunch of seniors; Oklahoma will bounce back from the disappointing year they had and I think they can be a top-20 team. Iowa State is full of seniors; TCU made the NCAA tournament last year and has everybody back plus transfers coming in. It goes on and on.
Bechard's thoughts on the Big 12 were really interesting for me. Not that he is going to say anything bad about any of the teams on his schedule, but coming into 2016 I wasn't too sure about the strength of the conference. It will be good for Kansas if some combination of Oklahoma, Iowa State, and/or TCU can make runs into the Top 25 and be tough outs in conference play.
It's interesting how people now view your program after you have a breakout year like we did last year. I was recruiting in Indianapolis, I think it was day four of a five day recruiting effort where there are 100 courts setup, there are 100 whistles going on from eight in the morning to six at night and you're kind of in this recruiting coma, as you call it. I'm approached by these two coaches and they introduce themselves, 'Hey we're from Southeast Louisiana, our team can't wait to play you guys.'
When you've got a target on your back or a hierarchy opportunity for other people, we need to understand that each and every team we play will view their match with Kansas as something significant. We'll embrace that and create an opportunity for our team to feel the same way.
So if you hear this Olympic jargon they're talking about, 'USA was in system', that means the setter received a good first pass and now has all options available offensively – that's what 'in system' means.
We were in system more last year than we've ever been in years past. We've got to figure out a way to make that happen. Our goal will be that all those pins are capable of being six-rotation players.
With five returning starters, I have confidence that the Jayhawks will find their groove in non-conference play, give Texas all they want, and claim a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The question that we get is, 'How are you going to take it to the next level? How are you going to do better than you did last year?' Well, it's hard. (An overall record of) 30-3 is pretty good, with the three losses to two teams playing for the national championship. I think that the expectations that players might feel sometimes come from within.
We're going to fall back on our training. We're going to have our players prepared. We're going to put them in situations in practice each and every day that create opportunity for them when they play matches.
There's not much of a "next level" left; title game and or national championship are the only two steps left to take. I've already made my hotel reservations, so let's hope they do indeed take those next steps.