Today, the Kansas University volleyball team will find out if its beefed-up nonconference schedule pays off.
The schedule was planned specifically to prepare the Jayhawks for matches like the one at 7 p.m. tonight against No. 10 Kansas State at Ahearn Field House in Manhattan.
"We're 7-3, but our (ranking is) higher now than when we were 9-0 last year," KU coach Ray Bechard said. "Our schedule's much more aggressive, and we were a whisker away from winning all three matches last weekend."
KU played host to the Jayhawk Classic last Friday and Saturday, finishing 1-2. Both Jayhawk losses were decided in the fifth game.
Whiskers won't cut it against K-State. Bechard doesn't want any more near-misses. He wants results -- which have been hard to come by against the Wildcats. KSU has won the last 16 meetings, including 10 in Bechard's six years at KU.
Bechard's teams have taken only four total games from their intrastate rivals since he became KU's coach in 1998, and he said this year's K-State team was its best yet.
"They have a chance to do well in the Big 12, if not win it," Bechard said. "They're ranked in the top 10 right now, and they should be."
K-State's only blemishes this season came in its first two matches, against No. 2 Hawaii and No. 3 Florida. The Wildcats have reeled off 10 straight victories since and have climbed to their highest-ever ranking.
The Wildcats turn to senior Lauren Goehring and her hard swing to set the tone. Her 3.50 kills per game are a mark of consistency, while her .498 hitting percentage is third in the nation.
"Lauren Goehring has multiple shots. She's just amazing," said Jayhawk junior libero Jill Dorsey, who recorded a career-high 27 digs in last Saturday's 3-2 loss to North Carolina.
"She's one of the most highly respected middles in the Big 12. It's always fun to face hitters like that because it's challenging for a libero like myself, but it's going to be interesting. They have a lot of people that can make shots, but she's very key."
The Jayhawks have their own weapons. Freshman outside hitter Janaina Correa is sixth in the Big 12 Conference with 4.03 kills per game, and boasts a heavy jump serve that's hard to handle.
Junior middle blocker Ashley Michaels is also among the league leaders, standing second in the conference in hitting percentage (.387). Junior setter Ashley Bechard is second in assists per game (12.51), and Dorsey ranks third in digs. All give Kansas confidence it can halt the Wildcats' hot streak.
"This is definitely the best I've ever felt about going down to Manhattan," said senior Abbie Jacobson, a St. Marys native who grew up 20 minutes from Manhattan.
"We're more prepared for conference because of our strength of schedule," she said. "K-State's definitely a good team, but it should be an exciting matchup. We're ready for it."