Putting lost opportunities behind them and focusing on a chance for redemption in 2010 was the theme of Wednesday’s fall Olympic sports media day at Kansas University.
Both KU volleyball coach Ray Bechard and KU soccer coach Mark Francis talked achingly about how their programs were one victory away from qualifying for their respective NCAA Tournaments in 2009.
Both teams were slightly above .500 last season, with the volleyball program finishing 16-14 overall and 8-12 in Big 12 play and the soccer team finishing 12-8-2 overall and 4-6 in conference. Both had RPI ratings that placed them on the bubble of the postseason talk, and both coaches said a good chunk of the offseason was spent searching for ways to prevent a similar stumble in 2010.
“Our RPI was not bad (in 2009), and one of the (NCAA Tournament) committee members from the Big 12 said that we were probably a game away,” Francis said. “So when you hear that, it’s a little frustrating. I think the players, especially the juniors and the seniors who were in the tournament two years ago, really want to get back there.”
Added Bechard: “We were right on the borderline of an NCAA Tournament berth so we know we need to improve both of those numbers (record and RPI). The way the schedule’s set up, we have every opportunity to do that.”
Bechard’s club will be led by four seniors — outside hitter Karina Garlington, a preseason All-Big 12 pick, libero Melissa Manda, outside hitter Jenna Kaiser and defensive specialist Mel Townsend. In addition to filling the void left by last year’s senior class, that group will be responsible for emphasizing how close the team was to making the tournament in ’09.
“I think it’s a really good tool because winning one more match would’ve been the one thing that changed it for us last season,” Manda said. “It’s good to remember that and to keep it in your head every game to make sure that we value every chance that we have.”
In addition to adding some stronger opponents to this year’s nonconference schedule, KU has packed in the home games. After opening the season at the Creighton’s Bluejay Invitational this weekend, KU will play eight straight home matches from a schedule that includes 18 home dates in all.
“I try to go with the Coach Keating Formula,” said Bechard, referring to KU associate athletic director Larry Keating. “Get as many of ’em as you can at home, is what he says. Larry’s advised me on that for years.”
As for Francis’ crew, the season was pushed back a week, making the preseason longer than ever, which, Francis said, has benefited the development of a team that returns seven seniors and seven juniors from 2009.
Gone are two of the team’s starting defenders, a starting midfielder and a starting forward, and in to fill their spots is a mix of returning veterans and newcomers. Because of that, the preseason polls and all-conference teams don’t have much of a KU presence.
Francis likes that.
“I think this stuff’s bogus, myself,” Francis said. “They do a preseason all-conference team and they do a preseason where-are-you-gonna-finish thing. I have no idea. We haven’t played a game. But the good thing about it for us is they picked us eighth. So that’s huge motivation for our team.”
The Jayhawks open the season at 5 p.m. Friday against Eastern Kentucky.
Track and cross country coach Stanley Redwine discussed returning several of his top male runners from 2009, including junior Don Wasinger, the team’s top finisher in all six meets last year.
“He’s had a phenomenal summer,” Redwine said. “And (he’s) done a really good job of leading the team so far.”
As for the women, who turned in their best season in 15 years in 2009, placing fifth at the Big 12, they’ll be led by senior Amanda Miller and juniors Rebeka Stowe and Kara Windisch.
KU opens the season Sept. 4 with the Bob Timmons Classic in Lawrence.
Also on hand Wednesday was women’s basketball player Angel Goodrich, who in July was cleared to begin training after suffering her second ACL tear in two seasons. Goodrich, a sophomore from Tahlequah, Okla., said bouncing back from injury No. 2 was easier in some ways and harder in others.
“Just knowing I got through it the first time helped,” she said. “It was great. Not the pain, but having all the support, someone always there behind you, pushing you along the way.”