The number six is a stinging reminder of last year's postseason snub for the Kansas University volleyball team.
Despite the Jayhawks' best-ever sixth-place finish in the Big 12 Conference and a record number of wins (19-10) for head coach Ray Bechard, KU was not invited to the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time in Big 12 history six teams didn't make the 64-team field.
"It still hasn't worn off," junior middle blocker Ashley Michaels said. "That's a driving force for us this year."
It might have to be, considering the Big 12 preseason coaches poll tapped the Jayhawks sixth again.
Bechard, entering his sixth season at KU, said his team must focus on today's opener -- a 5 p.m. matchup against Western Kentucky in the Best Western Inn and Suites Invitation in DeKalb, Ill.
The Jayhawks are 28-1 against nonconference opponents during the last three years, but they'll face a test in the Hilltoppers, who were 33-5 last season.
"We felt last year our pre-conference maybe didn't totally prepare us for our conference," said Bechard, whose teams have won 47 of 52 non-conference matches during his first five years. "It's what we're looking for this year. We'll see if the schedule-maker, whoever that is, did a good job."
The Jayhawks have plenty of returning talent in senior outside hitters Sarah Rome and Abbie Jacobson, libero Jill Dorsey, freshman outside hitter Janaina Correa and All-Big 12 middle blocker Josiane Lima, but there are a few concerns.
Lima said she "is not quite 100 percent healthy" after having knee surgery during the summer. A bigger blow could be the loss of sophomore setter Andi Rozum, who started all 29 matches last year and set a KU freshman record with 1,179 assists. Rozum is expected to miss four to six weeks because of a hip and groin injury.
Whether Kansas can overcome its injuries, a tough non-conference schedule and the Big 12 is unclear. But Bechard said his team wouldn't have another crushing rejection like last season.
"Now we start 2003, and hopefully will have a different result at the end," he said.