This is Mike Plank with Rock Chalk Talk, and I am sitting down here once again with 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, I wanted to get back to you before conference play began, but this will just have to do! KU is off to a 1-0 start after getting a win (in five sets) in Manhattan. However, I’m just not buying that K-State is that great of a squad this year. Now I know that any road win in conference play is a good win, so here is your chance to sell me on K-State actually being a good team. They came into the matchup with KU with a very pedestrian 8-6 record, with losses to unranked foes Oregon State, Arkansas, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech. They also went 0-2 against Top-10 teams in matches that weren’t very competitive. I just feel like KU should have handled that team a little bit better.
Can you give us a quick recap of that match and why KU struggled with putting away K-State?
A couple a variables played into what one might think on paper would be a fairly easy victory for KU.
- K-State is an in-state rival, and much the same with men's basketball, it just always seems to be a close battle.
- Sunday midday match-up, 90 plus degree heat and word on the street is the AC went out in Ahern that afternoon so it was beyond hot.
- KU rolled in set 1 and in sets 2 and 3 they had leads but made some uncharacteristic errors and misconnections on offensive sets.
- Ahern was packed and in my opinion one of the toughest places to play because there are a bunch of reflections coming in from the bright sunshine through the windows. I know that sounds odd but I think it is into K-State’s favor for midday match.
- If Kansas controls set 2 and cuts down on some errors on their side, I think it ends more in a sweep than a 5-set victory but give K-State credit, they played well and they are very familiar with KU. Every match in conference play this year, especially on the road, will be tough.
So last year, KU claimed sole possession of first place with a 15-1 record, splitting with Texas but sweeping the rest of the Big 12. That became possible when Texas went 14-2 with losses at KU and at Iowa State. Obviously, you want to win every match, but is it realistic to think that splitting with the Longhorns again and then seeing if either squad stumbles elsewhere will determine the Big 12 champion in 2017?
Yes I do, but I foresee more tight matches with teams at the top, including Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia (who took Texas to 5 sets this last weekend before dropping a heartbreaker and leading 9-4 in the 5th and decisive set). No question you have to defend court at home but I suspect whichever team can stay steady and not slip up on the road wins the title.
Let’s get into the rest of the Big 12. The conference opened the season with just two teams ranked in the Top-25, with Texas at #1 and Kansas at #8. However, Iowa State, Baylor, and K-State all received votes in the preseason poll.
Now, Iowa State has moved into the Top-25 at #18, while Baylor is the only other Big 12 school receiving votes. With the exception of Oklahoma, who is really struggling this year, every Big 12 team is entering conference play with a winning record. Is the depth pretty good or is the Big 12 a pretty top-heavy league (with Kansas and Texas)?
I think the conference has a lot of talent overall but especially at the top, and is very muddy in the middle. I think it is safe to say Iowa State is a Top-25 caliber team and is proving that with their 18th ranking. I suspect Baylor will crack the Top 25 here soon. I think TCU, West Virginia, K-State, and Texas Tech can present problems for opponents and are a tough out, especially on their home court. Oklahoma may be having a down year, especially for them, but you can't count anyone out.
Can you give us a team that you think will surprise in Big 12 conference play this year?
That is close answer between West Virginia and Texas Tech. Both have head coaches that have some conference experience under their belt now and some of their own recruits and are starting to make some moves. Both are really gritty teams and both are fighting to make moves into the top half of conference.
How excited are you for the new Horejsi Family Volleyball Center? I think that the current building is pretty well known around the league as an extremely tough place to play for visitors. It is very intimate with a capacity of just around 1300, and it gets extremely loud and raucous. It will be nice to have a volleyball-specific facility, and I think the atmosphere will be able to translate to the new arena. Your thoughts?
Well I have to say, I have mixed feelings. On a selfish level, I think it will be sad to see the “old” Horejsi go because of all the hours I spent in that place - blood and sweat and tears! But wow, I have to quickly say it's for the better for the program, for Kansas Volleyball, for the fans who haven't been able to get tickets the last couple years due to the current facility being sold out, and for exposure as a possible Regional site in the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
All in all it is incredible and the generosity of the Horejsi Family is amazing. Thank you, thank you! It fires me up to see the renderings of the “new” Horejsi and I know there is still money to raise - so please join the pledge - www.raisethechant.com.
With the upgrade to the facilities, do you anticipate a boost to recruiting, or is Kansas already recruiting at a higher level due to all of the success over the past five years?
No question it will help. But yes, winning is a big factor for recruiting, but add a state-of-the-art and volleyball specific facility, it is a perfect marriage to “go to market” if you will and get the top recruits. I get chills thinking of the new facility with 3,000 fans hosting a Regional Final. Now that's a great image!
Let’s go back to when you were in high school. I’m sure recruiting is nothing like what we hear about in men's basketball and football - endless calls, texts, etc. Tell us what it was like choosing a college as a "non-revenue sport" student athlete. Were you actively recruited? What was the recruiting process like back then? Or was it as simple as that is where you always wanted to go since you were a more “local” recruit?
I was actively recruited but I also had the luxury of being close to home and my club volleyball coach at the time, Jill Jones-Stuckey, was the Assistant Coach at KU so I had exposure to Kansas then with the coaches getting to see me play quite a bit. Not to mention, Coach Bechard's daughter, Ashley, was on the same club team as me. But what really got me hooked to KU was when I was in 6th grade I used to come with a friend of mine to watch Kansas Volleyball in Allen Fieldhouse. I said from that first match that playing at KU is what I wanted to do.
Rewind even before that to Danny and the Miracles, they were my main hook - I was a Jayhawk from the beginning. So my process was as simple as after club practice my sophomore year of high school and Coach Jones casually asking if I would be interested in playing at KU. I remember that moment so well and of course I went home on cloud nine.
One of my best friends is also Ashley Bechard, and five of us who came into Kansas in my class had played club volleyball together, so I couldn't have imagined playing anywhere else. KU is really an extended family for me and Coach B and his family is a big part of that. I was just in Boston visiting with Ashley and she is still one of my best friends.
Other schools recruited me as an outside hitter, but they were smaller Division 1 schools and I didn't really entertain them. I gave Coach B and staff a clear “YES!” from the get-go that I wanted to be a Jayhawk. I was a small town girl from Kansas who dreamed of playing at Kansas, and I feel pretty lucky it all worked out and forever grateful for the opportunity.
Well Jill, I think we’ve taken up enough of your time, I believe you have a broadcast to prepare for! Can you give us a quick preview of the Iowa State game on Wednesday evening?
Defense, Defense, Defense. Iowa State is known for their defense and digging ability. They have actually coined the phrase #LiberoU at Iowa State and I think their blocking has improved. I know last year in Ames, KU blocked the ball well and Kelsie Payne was great. In Lawrence, which was later in the season, Kelsie was hurt so Ashley Smith played a big role. KU ended up winning in 5 sets but it was tight.
I think it will be a battle because Iowa State is playing very confidently right now, and they return so many players from last season, as does Kansas. They are well coached and Jess Schaben, their outside hitter, is one of the top players in the conference. I wouldn't be surprised it if this match goes the distance with two Top-20 teams and both playing at a high level.
I will be in Austin, TX, covering Texas-Baylor for Fox Sports, but I'll be keeping a close eye on it via Twitter. I'll be back on the broadcast on Saturday for Fox Sports when KU takes on TCU, so I won’t be gone for long! Either way, tune in if you can! Conference time is here and KU is looking to defend the Big 12 title, but it will be a heck of a battle!
Thanks so much Jill! Rock Chalk!