Kansas University's volleyball team surely took advantage of the summer orientation available to all new college students, or at least half the squad should have.
Of the 15 players on the KU roster, eight are freshmen and three are sophomores. Setter Molly LaMere, one of two returning starters from last year's 15-14 Jayhawks, is the lone senior on the roster.
"The one senior is obviously extremely important to us," said KU coach Ray Bechard, primed for his fourth season with the Jayhawks.
Indeed LaMere is. A two-year starter and the only current Jayhawk who committed before Bechard arrived at KU, LaMere ranks third in KU career assists with 2,781. Her 12.95 assists a game last season ranks No. 1 for the Jayhawks. Her 12.90 assists a game as a sophomore now ranks No. 2.
"She had very good spring," Bechard said of the 5-foot-7 LaMere, a Papillion, Neb., product. "I don't see any reason that she can't cap off a great career with a strong senior season. She's extremely competitive. That position requires a certain level of expectations from everybody else. She's not afraid to say, 'Hey, here's what I need you to do.'
"She'll do well being a senior amongst a younger team . She'll set a good pace and tone for everybody else to model."
LaMere will get more opportunities for assists this fall. College volleyball will feature a 30-point rally scoring system for each game except for the fifth, which will continue to go 15 points. The scoring change was approved in an attempt to control the length of matches, which for KU varied from 53 minutes to 2 hours, 44 minutes last fall.
"This new scoring system does allow those teams with a few less weapons and less physical presence to have a chance on a given night," said Bechard, 47-45 in three seasons at KU.
Sarah Rome, a 5-11 sophomore outside hitter, will join LaMere as a returning starter. Rome ranked fourth on the team with 185 kills, 2.20 per game last season.
"A lot of people think the biggest jump is made between your freshman and sophomore year as far as getting more comfortable and getting acclimated to that Big 12 environment," Bechard said of Rome, an Eagan, Minn., product.
Junior middle blocker Kylie Thomas (1.65 kills per game and second on KU with 111 blocks last year) and sophomore Jordan Garrison (1.32 kpg) should also figure in KU's attack.
Bechard wouldn't be surprised if some of his freshmen contribute immediately. Danielle McHenry, a 6-foot outside hitter from Shawnee Heights, was prep player of the year in Kansas.
"We think some of them can enter in the fray right away," Bechard said. "A couple of them are red-shirt candidates. I look at that group and I see an opportunity for every one of those kids before their career is over to have a pretty good impact on our program.
"With just one senior, you get to train the same group for a couple of years. We're not writing this year off. This year will allow us to have a two-year plan. The last couple of years we've had heavy losses in a lot of different positions."
Three incoming freshmen Ashley Bechard, Lawrence; Jill Dorsey, Wellsville; and Lindsey Morris, Blue Valley Northwest are walk-ons. Bechard, an all-Sunflower League setter at Lawrence High, is the coach's daughter.
Since coming to KU following a successful 13-year run at Barton County CC, Bechard has emphasized recruiting Kansas kids.
"It's an attempt for us to spend time on isolating those kids who can help us," he said. "There's no reason for them to go away and help other programs when they can help us."
KU will need help in the Big 12. After a 9-0 start, KU lost 14 of its final 20 matches.
"We have the undefeated national champ (in Nebraska)," Bechard said. "And they think they're going to be better. Top to bottom it'll be as good as it's ever been."