KU volleyball’s new lineup ready for challenging 2018 schedule

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas middle blocker Mmachi Nwoke, left, and Kansas outside hitter Jada Burse slap hands before the first set on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 at Horejsi Center.

After the University of Kansas volleyball team posted a 30-3 record en route to a Final Four appearance in 2015, head coach Ray Bechard had a hard time putting together a schedule for his team.

Scheduling got much easier for the 2018 campaign, however, after the Jayhawks lost plenty of their production to graduation. Kansas, which began its season with a come-from-behind victory at Arkansas on Friday, will play 10 matches against 2017 NCAA tournament teams this season., will play 10 matches against 2017 NCAA tournament teams this season.

“Everyone wanted to play us this fall when our roster turned over a bit,” Bechard said. “We might have got a little more aggressive with our scheduling than we should have, but we’re going to have a really competitive preconference schedule, and then the Big 12 will be what it is.”

But the daunting schedule may be exactly what Kansas needs with a new lineup.

“I think everyone on the team right now is accepting change and embracing it,” junior outside hitter Patricia Montero said. “I feel like having a tough schedule is just going to make us better.”

The Jayhawks, who went 22-8 in 2017, will look to keep the program churning after saying goodbye to Ainise Havili, Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon As a result, the team will lean on returning starters Jada Burse, Zoe Hill and Allie Nelson.

Montero and Gabby Simpson, both of whom redshirted last season, are also expected to embrace larger roles this season.

“I think the target might be off their back now,” Bechard said. “Last couple years, I think some of our players wore that a little bit heavier than others, but I think this is a year for this group to kind of set their own tone and make their own path.”

Burse and Simpson, in particular, will play a huge part in paving the team’s path. Both players were named to the All-Big 12 preseason team, extending the Jayhawks’ streak of having at least two players on the list every season since 2014.

As a sophomore, Burse was named to the All-Big 12 second team after averaging 2.48 kills per set and reaching double figures in kills in 14 different matches. Burse accounts for 42 percent of the team’s returning point production.

Simpson, meanwhile, has the versatility to play setter and right-side hitter. She transferred to Kansas after starting at Colorado for three years, earning All-Pac 12 honors in 2015 and 2016. The redshirt senior admitted that she learned a lot after sitting out last fall.

“I got to see the game from a different perspective and learn a little bit more about the game than you would learn playing,” Simpson said. “It also gave me the chance to take a step back and look at my ability to be a better teammate off the court.”

Simpson will have a chance to be the team’s new setter, though Bechard noted that freshman Camryn Ennis and sophomore Annika Carlson could also play in that spot.

Despite all the unknown and a tough schedule, the Jayhawks will enter the 2018 season with similar expectations as previous seasons.

“I think we’re going to do business as usual,” Bechard said. “We hope to continue a lot of momentum we’ve had the last few years, in that we think we should compete for a Big 12 title, compete and train to be in the NCAA tournament.”

KU Volleyball Schedule

Today — vs. Arkansas, 1 p.m.

Aug. 31 — at Lexington, Ky., vs. Dayton, 9 a.m.

Aug. 31 — at Lexington, Ky., vs. College of Charleston, 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 — at Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Sept. 7 — vs. American, 12 p.m.

Sept. 7 — vs. Auburn, 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 — vs. Loyola Marymount, 1 p.m.

Sept. 14 — at Elon, 5 p.m.

Sept. 15 — at UNC Greensboro, 9:30 a.m.

Sept. 15 — at High Point, 3 p.m.

Sept. 18 — vs. Drake, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 22 — vs. TCU, 1 p.m.

Sept. 26 — at Oklahoma, 8 p.m.

Oct. 3 — vs. West Virginia, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 6 — vs. Baylor, 1 p.m.

Oct. 10 — vs. Texas, 8 p.m.

Oct. 13 — at Texas Tech, 1 p.m.

Oct. 17 — at Kansas State, 8 p.m.

Oct. 20 — vs. Iowa State, 1 p.m.

Oct. 27 — at Baylor, 12 p.m.

Oct. 31 — at West Virginia, 5 p.m.

Nov. 3 — vs. Texas Tech, TBA

Nov. 10 — at Texas, TBA

Nov. 14 — vs. Kansas State, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 17 — at TCU, 1 p.m.

Nov. 21 — at Iowa State, 6:30 p.m.

Nov. 24 — vs. Oklahoma, 1 p.m.


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