This is Mike Plank with Rock Chalk Talk, and I am sitting down here once again with new friend-of-the-site Jill Dorsey-Hall. She is an analyst for ESPN volleyball broadcasts and does most of the KU games that are broadcast on ESPN networks.
Jill played volleyball at KU from 2001-04, where she was the first player in KU history to don the libero jersey.
Jill, it’s been about a week since we chatted last, and in that time, Kansas went 2-1 at its own invitational, taking care of Belmont, dominating then-#17 Purdue, but falling in straight sets to a top-10 Creighton team. Can you just quickly recap the games for us and maybe pick out something from each match that stands out to you?
Belmont: Noon, lunch-time special, first of the weekend, many hot dogs consumed from a sold-out crowd (I asked the hot dog question to Leif while a fan was crushing a hot dog - check out the replay on ESPN3). (Editor’s note: This occurred between the first and second set if you go watch the replay.) Belmont was scrappy and didn’t give in when Kansas jumped out to a lead.
Kansas had control of the match and won the battle from a physicality standpoint. Belmont is a type of team that Kansas could very well see in a first round opponent of the NCAA tournament, so that was a quality victory.
Purdue: Unbeaten teams battling it out at the nightcap. Second match of the day proved to be the best for the Jayhawks. The power and physicality going into the match I thought could have provided some difficult situations for the Jayhawks, but in each set victory they had KU was able to use a quick start to go up for 4 or 5 and never let Purdue grab a run of points.
The Jayhawks prevailed in 4 sets, as the Boilermakers were able to avoid a sweep winning by the 3rd set and controlled that set from start to finish, just as Kansas did the other 3 sets. Kansas got a big victory against a team that could make some big moves in the Big 10, which is the best volleyball conference.
Creighton: Rematch from last season’s heartbreaking defeat where the Bluejays ended KU’s season in five sets, with the final going 20-18 in Lawrence. Creighton went on to the Elite 8 last season, returned all but one from that squad and added a freshman middle blocker from Lawrence, KS, in Naomi Hickman. Creighton controlled this match in set 1 and 2 by just playing more consistent volleyball in every aspect. First contact, making the smart play, and executing at a high level.
Keep in mind this a Creighton team that is comfortable playing in Lawrence, in that gym and with that crowd. Even in the 3rd set when Kansas was looking to turn the match around I thought Creighton showed a lot of composure and grit, winning that set 29-27, thereby sweeping the Jayhawks at home for their first loss of the season.
That Creighton match was especially disappointing. It was my observation that Kansas was just “off” that evening. And they weren’t slightly off, they were way off. It wasn’t even a “B” game from Kansas. There were bad passes everywhere. Even Havili had an uncharacteristically bad game setting the ball.
And on the flip side, Creighton was just all over Kansas. They were digging everything, they were blocking, they were hitting. They definitely had their “A” game, and that made for a rough evening for the Jayhawks. Am I on the right track?
Spot on - and when you play a top 10 opponent and one that knows you very well from playing so often in the past couple years (last year played twice, where teams split) you have to be on-point from every aspect of the game and when one area started to click for KU, another aspect was off and hence the whole team never got going. Anytime there was a momentum play (especially in the 3rd set) the Creighton coach was smart with her timeouts, and called them in a timely manner so that the crowd would sit down and quiet down. Horejsi can be a loud venue, but when you can take that aspect out, momentum points from the home court advantage can be neutralized.
Also, I felt that Creighton in some aspects had nothing to lose - Kansas is ranked higher, on their home floor, and in many regards, expected to win. Creighton played loose and it showed. Also, first contact for Creighton was on-point the entire match.
We touched a little bit last week on recruiting at Kansas when we discussed Ainise Havili, but I want to go a little bit farther down the rabbit hole. Has the recruiting philosophy at KU changed in the last couple of years?
I ask because the Jayhawks have had some “luck” with local talent recently - Cassie Wait and Taylor Soucie being the most obvious examples - but you were also a local recruit. Has the coaching staff branched out? There are six players from Texas on the roster; Has KU always had to recruit Texas as well for volleyball? Is the KC area just producing more talent now?
Texas is such a hotbed for talent in every sport. The obvious help from a geographical standpoint is volleyball in the Big XII plays home and away in conference play so their family can watch them play a lot in their home state. I had a teammate that hailed from the state of Texas so I don’t think it is a new philosophy. Texas has talent and some recruiting classes are larger than others, but if you look back at the Brianne Riley class that was very large and impactful (2010), I know Erin McNorton was from Texas but I believe she was the only player.
You recruit talent where there is talent with the needs you have that year whether it be at a setter position, attacker position, or backrow player. I think the sport of volleyball as a whole is on a rise and that will mean the level of talent will continue to increase and the central time zone has been producing some great volleyball talent lately.
With the recent success over the past five years, has recruiting picked up for Kansas? Are the Jayhawks competing with Texas, Florida, Penn State, etc. for recruits, or is that just something that isn’t even possible? Has Coach Bechard changed KU’s recruiting style or philosophy lately?
I think consistent appearances in the NCAA tournament, playing in a premiere conference, top 25 rankings, and making it to the Final Four will help with recruiting. Not to mention the facilities are really nice at Kansas. The support staff, the campus improvements, all are tools to help with recruiting. When you consistently see Kansas in the top 10 - I believe it's 29 out of the last 30 weeks - recruits take notice.
Winning helps. First team All-Americans help with this exposure. And a coaching staff that has been consistent also helps. I don't necessarily think his style has changed but again, when you win and you are a highly ranked program who has sold out crowds and almost every match is televised those all contribute to recruits taking a look at Kansas.
I’d like to preview the Big 12 more next week, so for now, I’ll ask this: How does Kansas compare so far on a national level as non-conference play winds down?
With one loss on the season, and some solid wins under their belt I think a top 10 ranking is a fair assessment and deserved. Quality wins over ranked opponents help your RPI (which is critical when it comes to ranking in the NCAA tournament). I credit Coach B for ramping up the schedule in the non-conference. KU played only one home tournament this year that included a quality team from the Big 10 in Purdue along with a highly regarded Creighton team. Additionally, there was the standalone match against a team that might push Florida for the SEC title in Kentucky. Creighton, even though it was a loss, is not a bad loss and I think they will learn a lot from that match.
Don’t forget with wins over Belmont, Missouri State, Utah Valley, Long Beach State - these are all teams that will push to win their conferences so those can be tournament teams and you will take those wins on your resume any season. You also now as a fan want to root for those teams to win because that just improves your RPI.
They have one more tournament this weekend where they will see some more quality opponents (San Jose State, Santa Clara, Idaho). However, I expect Kansas to win all three of these matches fairly easy.
I feel like Kansas has already improved dramatically from their first weekend at NC State up to this point. This may come off as a weird question, but I want to ask anyway: Do you expect KU to continue to improve as the season continues?
Every team needs to work to find their identity and same goes for this team. You lost three vocal leaders from the team ago and although you have a lot of veterans on this team, the dynamic of the team which has started to develop will continue to take form and shape throughout the year.
I think Taylor Alexander, who is the Senior Transfer from Ole Miss, has been a great spark both offensively and defensively with her play in the middle blocker position. Also, I know Allie Nelson had big shoes to fill in that libero position and no question she will continue to get better and better just with more match experience wearing that jersey.
Alright, fun question time: What was your favorite dinosaur when you were a kid?
Brachiosaurus, because their long necks are so rad. How fun would that be to be super tall just hanging out in the sky? Can you tell I was always jealous of my tall teammates? I am the shortest in my family at 5’9” and envy that height!