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Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2006

Deeper squad must stay well

August 12, 2006

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Kansas University volleyball coach Ray Bechard has the bodies this year. Now he just needs a little luck.

"We need to stay healthy," Bechard said, "and we've seemed to have some problems with that in the last couple years."

The coach led KU to its third consecutive NCAA appearance last season, but not without more than a fair share of bumps and bruises.

In fact, when the team traveled to UCLA for its NCAA match last December, it did so with only nine healthy athletes.

This year, the coach has a beefed-up roster of 16 players but Bechard still has huge holes to fill with the losses of seniors Josi Lima, Andi Rozum and Paula Caten.

"I think the biggest challenge is when you lose a middle (Lima) and a setter (Rozum) who have been in the lineup for four straight years," Bechard said. "That's going to be the biggest transition."

The toughest loss might be Lima, who was named to the All-Big 12 first team each of her four seasons. Her 1,483 kills are the most in school history.

"I think people appreciated Josi Lima from a spectator standpoint with her ability to hit and block. As our coaches know and our team knows, it went much deeper than that," Bechard said.

"She was a very good back-row player, a good server. You end up maybe having to replace her with more than one person with all the things she did."

Bechard will rely on returnees Jana Correa and Emily Brown.

Correa comes back for her senior year after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Kansas State. In her 16 starts, she registered a team-leading 3.60 kills per game.

"We've never had a kid work any harder trying to get back," Bechard said. "Physically, she's fine. Now, after you've had both knees done, it's just a little bit more of a mental situation for her. Obviously, she's a huge piece of the puzzle."

Brown stepped up her game toward the end of the year, posting double-digit kills in eight consecutive Big 12 matches before being forced into the setter position because of injuries.

Brown's 25 kills against Texas A&M were a team season-high.

"From the middle of the year on," Bechard said, "she was as good as anyone in the Big 12."

Savannah Noyes and Jamie Mathewson also return. The remaining starting spots could be taken by newcomers.

Those new faces include Natalie Uhart, who has the opportunity to gain immediate playing time after transferring from Long Beach State. She's a Lansing High product.

Linsey Morningstar, a Free State High grad, will also add setting experience after transferring from Temple.

A pair of athletic freshmen, Brittany Williams and Paige Mazour, could fight for playing time in the middle.

Bechard is also looking forward to working with walk-ons Melissa Grieb and Sarah Wittenauer, who will add depth.

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