Kansas Prepares to Host Big 12 Leader, No. 9 Texas
Nov. 3, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. -After opening Big 12 Conference play in Austin, Texas, against then-No. 8 Texas, the University of Kansas volleyball team will now welcome the No. 9 Longhorns to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
When Kansas traveled south to open the Big 12 season in September, the Jayhawks were fresh off of the program's best start since 2002 at 11-1. KU had racked up three pre-conference tournament victories, including a win against then-No. 6 Minnesota, a team that swept Texas twice in the early weeks of the season.
After playing an intense pre-conference schedule that included Florida and a win over four-time defending NCAA National Champion Penn State, Texas was an uncharacteristic 7-3 on the year, holding down the last spot in the Big 12 standings.
What a difference a season makes. Entering the weekend, Texas has won 13 of its last 14 matches. Since winning in three against Kansas on Sept. 24, the Longhorns have gone on to sweep five more conference opponents in a league that has eight teams in the top 50 of the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Eight of the Big 12's nine volleyball schools check in at No. 47 or better in the projections, tying the Big Ten and the Pac-12 for the most schools in the RPI's top 50.
"I think they're playing as well as anybody in the country right now," head coach Ray Bechardsaid about the Longhorns. "They're healthy and extremely excited, I'm sure, about the upcoming month. Plus, they went most of pre-conference, if not all, and even some of the conference season without Sha'Dare McNeal, who isn't one of their primary attackers, but she is a system person. She primary passes and she's extremely steady so I think she was one of the missing parts that they really needed. With her being back, they've been able to move Bailey Webster to the outside where she has really blossomed."
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KANSAS (13-11, 1-10 Big 12)
In 11 league matches, Kansas has played 43 sets. Of those 43 sets, the Jayhawks have won 12 of them, but have lost an outstanding 11 sets by three points or less. Their last time out clearly displayed the Jayhawks' ability to pressure their opponents. Kansas went down two sets to none against Missouri when the team lost sets one and two by just two points. The Jayhawks were on the winning side of a two-point set after grinding out a victory in the third set, but ultimately fell to the Tigers in the fourth.
After watching his team battle in tightly-contested battles through the duration of the Big 12 season, Bechard said that his team's effort is there. The focus is finding ways to execute in key times. Bechard and his staff continue to make adjustments to find the right solution.
Against Missouri, Bechard started sophomore setter Kara Wehrs on the outside and brought regular starter Chelsea Albersoff the bench. Albers came in and offered six kills and two blocks, while Wehrs connected for a .500 attack percentage.
"Whatever the situation calls for this weekend, we will use," Bechard said. "We will put the most physical lineup out there because of the physical nature of the team we're playing. We felt that against Missouri, there was an opportunity for Kara could contribute in several different ways due to some of the things they were trying to do. Kara is versatile in that she can set, hit, play good defense and block. Plus, she has a really good attitude. She wants to help the team anyway she can."
Senior outside hitter Allison Mayfield remains consistently ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 in kills per set (4.14) and third in points per set (4.52) to lead the offense. Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc leads the team and ranks in the league's top 10 with a .306 hitting percentage, while fellow middle Tayler Tolefreeerupted for 14 kills against Missouri on Wednesday. Both broke into the program's top 10 for blocks in a single season against the Tigers, as Kansas out-blocked its opponent for the seventh time in 11 league matches.
No. 9 TEXAS (15-4, 8-1 Big 12)
Webster and senior middle Rachael Adams rank first and second in league-only matches, swinging for a .400 and .383 attack efficiencies, respectively. Freshman middle blocker Khat Bell is coming off a week where she earned both Big 12 Player and Rookie of the Week recognition. Bell produced her second-straight error-free performance in the 3-0 victory over No. 14 Iowa State in her last time out. Fellow rookie Haley Eckerman leads the team with 3.29 kills per set, with fellow sophomore Hannah Allison dishing out the assists. Allison ranks second in conference play with 11.66 assists per set.
"We'll get their best shot. He's (Texas coach Jerritt Elliott) trying to win a conference championship so our match means as much as any other match in their win-loss column," Bechard said. "Regardless of record, I think he still sees his team as a work in progress and I'm sure he's looking at each match as how they can get better. That's what we're trying to do, too. They will be the most athletic team we'll see all year, and that athleticism is now moving toward a good volleyball IQ and making good volleyball plays. When those two things come together for Texas, I think they're going to be awfully tough to deal with for a lot of people."