Rapid sellouts, conference honors build excitement for Kansas volleyball as NCAA Tournament approaches
photo by: Nick Krug
Long before she was a unanimous first-team all-conference selection for Kansas, Reagan Cooper first experienced Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena as an outsider.
“While I was at Tech, one of the main things we would talk about was how loud it was in here and how the fans were all on top of us,” said Cooper, who transferred from Texas Tech prior to the season for her final year of collegiate volleyball. “Part of our scouting would be like, ‘We need to be loud because we can’t hear. Especially over the band.'”
And what about now that KU gets to host NCAA Tournament matches in Horejsi beginning on Thursday?
“Somehow, it’s going to be louder,” Cooper said.
Penn State faces Yale at 4:30 p.m. Thursday before the Jayhawks take on Omaha at 7 p.m.; the winners will clash Friday evening. KU Athletics announced Monday afternoon that tickets for Thursday and Friday’s matches had sold out in one minute. Head coach Ray Bechard wrote on social media, “Can’t say I’m surprised by this,” a sentiment he reiterated Tuesday.
“I just think there’s been such a great vibe in Horejsi this year, and I think the people that come watch this team play can really identify with how hard they work, how hard they play together,” Bechard said, “and I think it’s created a real energy and real momentum with people in trying to get in the building to see this team play.”
Added setter Camryn Turner: “Jayhawk Nation has believed in us since the beginning. Not everyone else has believed in us but they have and it shows right there.”
As if fans needed anything else to believe in, Bechard and Turner both received top honors from the Big 12 Conference Tuesday, as Bechard took home the league’s coach of the year title for the fifth time — previously, he won it four times in five years from 2012 to 2016 — and Turner was named setter of the year.
She became the first Jayhawk to receive that title since Ainise Havili, a newly minted Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, who did so thrice from 2015-17.
“It was a complete shock,” Turner said, “I just always look back and me and my mom were talking about it, like, coming here, you just see all the people like Ainise, all of those people are (so) big-time, and I can never imagine myself doing that.”
The plaudits for Turner were much less surprising for those who have borne witness to her offensive leadership. Cooper said she had “100% trust” in the Topeka native. Bechard said she was key to spearheading the team’s growth in offseason sessions. Even Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self once called her the best point guard on campus.
“Even before they called the awards, I felt it,” outside hitter Ayah Elnady told the Journal-World, “because she’s just so amazing, so hardworking, she distributes the ball so well.”
Cooper and Elnady also earned first-team all-Big 12 nods alongside Turner; teammate London Davis made the second team, and freshman libero Raegan Burns was named an all-rookie honoree.
In a video posted by the KU volleyball team after Bechard’s honor, he said the award would more appropriately be named “program of the year,” pointing out his assistants and staffers and even the players. But those players would only let him diffuse the credit so much.
“He deserves the world and he works so hard day in and day out and wants the best for us every single day on and off the court,” Turner said.