Tonight and, hopefully, Saturday night, local residents are lucky enough to have the opportunity to see the Kansas University volleyball team play in the NCAA championship tournament.
The members of the team are excited for this opportunity but, for them, it was far more than a matter of luck. It involved a lot of hard work and determination.
It takes a lot more than luck to earn an 11 seed among the 64-team tournament field. That seed also earned the Jayhawks the right to play their first game(s) at home — not their normal home in the Horejsi Center but on the court in Allen Fieldhouse. The larger venue gives local residents a perfect opportunity to see the Jayhawk women in action.
The team certainly has earned the support of local fans. KU finished the season 25-6 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12. That’s the best regular season for a volleyball team in KU history and earned the team a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. It’s also the first time in school history that KU has been selected to host first and second round matches in the NCAA volleyball tournament.
It’s a team that exceeded perhaps even its own members’ expectations. Before the season started, the team was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 Conference; it finished third. Achieving their current status took a lot of hard work and what team members described as a culture change in the gym. Older team members set expectations and held players responsible for elevating their games. The result was a team that could finish strong and take home victories and help earn coach Ray Bechard the title of Big 12 volleyball coach of the year, the first time he has been so honored in 15 seasons at KU.
When KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger arrived in Lawrence last year, he made no secret of his disappointment with KU’s last-place finish in the Big 12 all-sports standings. We don’t know exactly how that disappointment was expressed to coaches of the various non-revenue sports at KU, but it’s great to see volleyball and some other programs setting high expectations and stepping up their efforts to be more competitive and successful.
Tonight showcases one of the big success stories. We urge local residents to help pack Allen Fieldhouse and cheer on the KU team as they face Cleveland State University.