2011 in Review: The Year That Was
Dec. 12, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. - For the third-straight season, the University of Kansas volleyball team posted a winning record but fell just shy of an NCAA Tournament bid, capping an up and down 2011 campaign.
2011 AWARDS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
-Although the Jayhawks tied a season-low for Big 12 wins in the Ray Bechard era with a 3-13 record (3-17, 2006), they brought a high level of competition to a league with 8-of-9 member schools ranked in the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) top 50. Iowa State, who reached a program-best No. 2 RPI ranking, was the only team to sweep Kansas in both meetings. In 16 conference matches, KU played 64 sets, taking at least one set from every Big 12 foe minus Iowa State. Ultimately, Kansas won 22 sets against Big 12 foes and lost 16 by three points or less.
"I don't think there was ever any doubt about our ability to compete," Bechard said. "It's the level of finish you have to have. We have three nationally-seeded teams in our conference and one of them (Texas A&M), we were a serve away from beating a team like that in three at home. With the exception of one or two matches in conference, we can point to times in each and every one of those matches where we had opportunities. You have to establish what that fine line is and attack this spring, into the summer and next fall."
-Of the NCAA Tournament's 16 national seeds, Kansas forced five-set matches with four of them (Texas, Texas A&M, Northern Iowa and defeated Minnesota). In all, KU faced 10 opponents that were selected to play in the NCAA Tournament, including four NCAA Regional Semifinal teams and two NCAA Quarterfinal teams.
-As a unit, KU ranked among the league's top three teams in blocks per set all season long. The Jayhawks finished the regular season third in the conference with 2.57 blocks per set, good for 36th in the NCAA. The Jayhawks recorded nearly 100 more block assists than last season's squad and for the first time since Bechard's debut season in 1998, Kansas out-blocked its opponents (2.6 bps/2.0 bps).
"We put a focus on blocking more balls per game and we did that," Bechard said. "We're pretty excited about that group and will work with them so they continue to develop."
-It wasn't the only milestone Mayfield reached during her final season with the Jayhawks. Mayfield leaves as the program's all-time attempts leader in a career and a single season. Her 4.16 kills per set this year were the best in the Big 12, 33rd in the NCAA and ranks second all-time in Kansas history.
"'Mayf' has been on the court a bunch for us over the last four years," Bechard said. "She came off for maybe five points this year. When you think about that over a 29-match season, that's pretty remarkable. You'd probably have a hard time finding anyone else in the country that played as high of a percentage of points as Mayfield did. She became the single-season kills leader even though she played fewer matches than there are in a typical season, and she also developed as a teammate and a six-rotation player. She developed into more of a leadership role and we're pretty proud of her."
-Fellow senior Nicole Tate earned the starting setter position for the last 11 matches of the season and responded with six double-doubles, tying sophomore setter Kara Wehrs for second-most on the team behind Mayfield (nine). Wehrs started the season's first 18 matches at setter. Tate finished her career fifth all-time on KU's career assists list (3,554), becoming one of only five Jayhawks to cross the 3,500 career assist mark. Tate is second all-time in KU's career assists per set (10.18).
"We were really trying to develop all three setters this year," Bechard said. "Kara (Wehrs) and Erin (McNorton) actually got a little more time during our Europe trip this summer and this fall, but Tate was always ready. She's top-five all-time in assists at Kansas. That speaks of a four-year career, not just a sporadic in-and-out career, we're proud of her from that standpoint. She lent a level of stability and dependability to the group and we appreciate that."
-Middle blockers Caroline Jarmoc and Tayler Tolefree brought Kansas' defense to a whole new level in 2011. For the first time in 14 seasons, KU posted more blocks on the season than its opponents. Jarmoc, a redshirt sophomore, ended the year at second all-time in career blocks per set (1.12), tied for third-all time on KU's single-season block assists list (115) and blocks per set (1.25) and fourth in total blocks in a single season (139). Tolefree was the only Jayhawk to post a double-double this season with kills and blocks (17 kills/11 blocks vs. Valparaiso) and also ended the year on the KU's all-time top 10 list in single season total blocks (127, 6th), block assists (109, 7th) and blocks per set (1.14, T-8th). Jarmoc and Tolefree finished the season ranked second and fifth in the Big 12, respectively, in blocks per set.
-Jarmoc also did work on the offensive side of the net, finishing second on the team behind Mayfield with 324 kills for 2.92 kills per set. Her accuracy was more notable; her .311 attack percentage ranked in the Big 12's top 10 and is second all-time by a Jayhawk.
-Sophomore libero Brianne Riley followed up a successful freshman campaign with an even more impressive sophomore year. Riley posted nine 20-plus dig efforts in 2011, en route to 482 digs on the season. That ranks third all-time by a Jayhawk, while her 4.34 digs per set this season were fourth in the Big 12 and is fourth-most all-time in KU history. She set her career-high with 34 digs against Baylor on Oct. 1. Only one other Big 12 libero posted more digs in a match this season (Kristen Hahn, ISU).
From there, Kansas dropped its first set of the season in a 3-1 win over Belmont before sweeping Appalachian State and South Dakota State to win its own Jayhawk Invitational.
Ironically, the only pre-conference tournament the Jayhawks did not win stood to be their most impressive when KU traveled to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for the Northern Iowa Invitational. KU opened the third weekend of the year by taking then-No. 15 UNI to five sets on its home floor before rebounding to defeat then-No. 6 Minnesota the next morning. Both would go on to earn national seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas finished the tournament with a sweep over Saint Louis to go 2-1 during the weekend in Iowa.
KU defeated San Diego State, Valparaiso and tournament-host DePaul to win its final non-conference tournament before opening conference play. Following its 11-1 start, Kansas received votes on the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I Top 25 Poll for three-straight weeks (Sept. 12-Oct. 2), peaking at 61 votes - just two spots away from cracking the top 25.
When the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) projections were released for the first time on Oct. 17, KU debuted at No. 39 and would spend the next four weeks in the top 45. The Jayhawks finished the season at No. 47, the highest-ranked RPI team to not make the postseason.
Kansas opened Big 12 play against nationally-ranked duo Texas and Iowa State, which resulted in the team's first defeats via sweeps of the year. Aside from its second meeting with ISU later in the year, KU would not be swept again.
"I think the start of the Big 12 Conference against Texas and Iowa State, for one reason or another, dented our confidence a little bit," Bechard said. "That's obviously something we can learn from for next season."
What followed was an uncharacteristic run for Kansas as the team went 0-7 to start Big 12 play, a mark that had not occurred since the 1997 season. Despite the record, KU put constant pressure on league opponents. Seven times in Big 12 play, KU recorded more kills, a better hitting percentage and more digs. The Jayhawks out-blocked their conference counterparts 10 times in 16 matches.
In all, KU recorded a pair of wins over Texas Tech and beat Baylor in the final match of the season. The Jayhawks' 25-9 victory in their final set against the Bears stood out for several reasons. For the first time since the NCAA 25-point scoring rule went into effect (2008), Kansas held not one, but two, opponents to a single-digit in a set. It also marked the first time since the rule change that Baylor had ever been held to a single-digit score in a set. The next day, Baylor was selected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
"Through it all, I will remember a team that continued to work hard each and every day and was playing its best volleyball at the end of the season," Bechard said. "We were extremely close. We had the highest-ranked RPI of any team not selected, but we needed to win a little bit more. I'll remember this season in a lot of ways from both a personal and a professional level. There were quite a few challenges as we went through the year, but they responded every day wanting to get better. We will use this fall as a springboard for things to come."