The Holiday Inn Jayhawk Invitational traditionally has been a friendly event for Kansas University's volleyball team.
It's been so nice to KU that the Jayhawks compiled a 12-3 record in seventh-year coach Ray Bechard's first five years.
They went 1-2 last year, however, with losses to NCAA Tournament teams Arkansas and North Carolina -- a pair of bruises that Bechard said helped prepare his squad to earn its first postseason berth in school history.
"We've had a lot of success here in the past," Bechard said," But we struggled last year with Arkansas and Carolina. This will be the same type of tough field."
KU welcomes an even more daunting slate of foes for this year's tournament. Denver (1-3) and No. 25 Wisconsin (1-1) play at 10 a.m. today, followed by KU and Rhode Island (2-2) at noon. Rhode Island and Denver square off at 5 p.m., and the Jayhawks close out the night at 7 p.m. against Wisconsin.
Wisconsin and Rhode Island play at noon Saturday, followed by KU and Denver at 2 p.m.
Bechard said his team was better prepared to handle the talented field this year. KU's nonconference schedule is its toughest in recent memory, but the Jayhawks still boast a 4-0 record that includes a season-opening road victory against Arkansas.
"We opened with an extremely tough road win, and that really got our attention and focus right away," he said. "The team is confident that they're capable of playing well now, and I think we'll see some things this weekend that will allow us to ratch it up another notch."
Bechard hopes his team won't overlook Rhode Island in anticipation of its late match against Wisconsin, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003. The Rams arguably are the weakest team in the tournament, having gone just 12-18 last year, but Bechard said he had warned his team against looking ahead.
"Wisconsin's from a premier conference and was in the tournament, but our girls learned long ago that everybody's gotta be respected," he said. "Our full focus is on Rhode Island until that match is done.
"For a team to have success and win this tournament, they're gonna have to give three good efforts."