Welcome to part two of our two-part series on Kansas Volleyball basics. Today’s topic: The players! Who is on this team? What are they good at? Who should I be watching? Let’s get them introduced to you.
Kansas returns four starters off of last year’s top-10 squad. We’ll meet them all, but let’s start off with the two returning first team All-Americans from 2016.
Kelsie Payne (SR): The biggest name and the one receiving all kinds of national attention is Kelsie Payne. Payne is a 6’3” senior from Austin, TX, and is the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year. She is a two-time All-American first teamer (2015 and 2016) and is one of the best outside hitters in the country. Last year, Kansas experimented with making Payne an all-around player, meaning she would play back row as well.
What to expect from Payne: Last year, Payne set a single-season record for kills on her way to Big 12 POY. Entering 2017, Payne was named the Preseason Big 12 POY, and even though opponents will likely try to gameplan around Payne, it will be difficult with the talent Kansas has around her. A repeat conference POY and first team All-American are not unreasonable expectations.
Ainise Havili (SR): Havili is KU’s other returning first team All-American. She is a 5’10” senior from Fort Worth, TX, and KU’s starting setter. She is a three-time All-American and is coming off back-to-back Big 12 Setter of the Year awards. Obviously, she is one of the premier setters in the country, making a very difficult job look pretty easy most times.
What to expect from Havili: Similar to Payne, Havili is one of the best players in the country at her position. Havili will play all the way around, and at 5’10” is a threat at the net as well. A third-straight conference setter of the year and first team All American are not unrealistic goals.
Madison Rigdon (SR): Rigdon is a returning starter out of Pflugerville, TX. She has played in almost every match while at KU and has started the majority of those matches. She was an All-Big 12 First Team nod in 2016.
What to expect from Rigdon: She will be on the floor the majority of the time and will attack from both the front row and the back row. In addition, she is probably KU’s best server. She will put up numbers and should expect to be a first team All-Big 12 again this year.
Jada Burse (SO): An outside hitter out of DeSoto, TX, Burse started 14 matches in her freshman season at Kansas, including 12 of 16 Big 12 matches. For her efforts on the court, she was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team.
What to expect from Burse: Burse will play opposite Payne on the front row. If she can continue to improve and be consistent, Havili will look her way with sets more often. Expect to hear her name called frequently, especially if Payne or Rigdon is having an off night.
Taylor Alexander (SR): A middle blocker out of Breaux Bridge, LA, Alexander transferred to KU from Ole Miss after graduating in three years. She is coming off a 100-block season in 2016, and should make an impact for the Jayhawks’ front line right away. She started every match for Ole Miss last year, and will likely do so again for Kansas this year.
What to expect from Alexander: She is an experienced player who is coming into a top-10 program in search of a national title. I expect her to be an effective force in the middle for Kansas all season long.
Allie Nelson (SO): Nelson is taking over for Cassie Wait at the libero position. A sophomore out of Chicago, she played sparingly her freshman year, seeing time in just 7 matches.
What to expect from Nelson: She has giant shoes to fill, following Cassie Wait who followed Brianne Riley. In other words, Nelson is following two of the best defensive players in Kansas volleyball history. I have no idea what to expect from her; she obviously impressed coaches in fall camp, so I expect her to be steady on defense with the potenial to be a conference leader in digs.
Tori Miller (SR): A defensive specialist out of Derby, KS, Miller will see some time this year on the back row and as a situational serving specialist.
Kayla Cheadle (SR): A middle blocker out of Columbia, MO, Cheadle has 32 starts under her belt at Kansas, and will be one of the first players off the bench for front row substitutions for the Jayhawks this year.
Zoe Hill (SO): A middle blocker out of Houston, TX, Hill started 14 matches during her freshman campaign last year, slowed in the middle of the season by a shoulder injury. Hill should also see extensive time along the front row this year.
Addison Barry (SR): A defensive specialist out of Topeka, Barry will likely be used in a similar manner as Tori Miller this year, a back row sub and situational serving specialist. Barry is also likely the backup libero should anything happen to Allie Nelson.
Mmachi Nwoke (SO): Nwoke transferred to KU from Arizona State this past offseason. She played regularly for the Sun Devils, but only started one match last year.
Gabby Simpson (SR): A senior out of Colorado Springs, Simpson is a transfer from the University of Colorado with one year of eligibility remaining. She is listed as a 6’3” outside hitter and setter, which is an interesting combination. Simpson has 87 starts under her belt from Colorado, and will likely be the primary setter backup should Havili be forced out of a game for any reason.
Jacqui Mostrom (R-FR): Mostrom came to KU out of Springfield, MO, and is coming off a redshirt year last year. She competed in fall camp for the libero job, and could see some time this year along the back row as a defensive specialist.
Ashley Smith (R-SO): A redshirt sophomore out of Las Vegas, NV, Smith came off the bench last year primarily relieving Kelsie Payne. Smith got one start, against Iowa State, when Payne was unable to play due to injury.
Annika Carlson (FR): The only true freshman on the KU roster, she is also the only other true setter on the KU roster. I would anticipate a redshirt season out of Carlson, but she may see time in mop up duty or due to injury.
Patricia Montero (R-SO): A redshirt-sophomore out of Puerto Rico, Montero was projected to be a starter and one of KU’s better all-around players this year. Unfortunately, she tore an ACL in practice a few weeks ago and will miss all of 2017. Montero started 15 matches last year, and has one of the best serves on the KU roster. She redshirted her freshman year after tearing an ACL during international competition with Puerto Rico. Hopefully Montero will apply for a medical redshirt from the NCAA and be granted a sixth season of eligibility.