Jayhawk notebook: More signs that KU has the top QB and RB in the Big 12 as season nears; softball coach gets contract extension; rower wins big league honor

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels throws a pass against Arkansas during the first half of the Liberty Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Let’s take a look at some news and notes from across the Jayhawk programs:

• As the football season approaches, expectations are ramping up for the Kansas Jayhawks, and by one count — in the pages of a major preseason magazine — they are about twice as high as they were a year ago.

The KU football team has 10 members named to the Athlon Sports Preseason All Big 12 Football Team, including the first team quarterback and running back. That’s twice as many as KU had entering last season, which ended up being a breakout campaign with the Jayhawks’ first bowl berth since 2008.

Quarterback Jalon Daniels and running back Devin Neal both were named to the first team, and offensive lineman Mike Novitsky also received first team honors. The trio made KU’s offense a bit of a standout in the selections. Only KU and Texas had three offensive players named to the first team.

This latest preseason honor may be the tip of the iceberg for Daniels. Last month, ESPN ranked Daniels as the 10th best quarterback in the country heading into the 2023 season. The sports network had him ranked as the best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference.

Daniels, who is entering his senior season, finished the year as a second team All Big 12 selection despite missing four games due to injury. But he recaptured the football world’s attention in KU’s overtime loss to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl. Daniels went 37-of-55 for 544 yards in that postseason game.

Neal, a former Lawrence High star, made the preseason list after posting a 1,000-yard rushing season during his sophomore campaign. Novitsky, who has anchored KU’s line at center, made the list after playing 846 snaps last season without allowing a quarterback sack.

KU’s defense landed one first-team selection by Athlon. Cornerback Cobee Bryant was named first team after finishing last season as an Big 12 Conference performer with three interceptions, one forced fumble and and a fumble recovery.

KU had seven other players named to teams below the first team level by Athlon. They are: TE Mason Fairchild and OL Dominick Puni, third-team offense; LB Rich Miller and DB Kenny Logan, Jr., third-team defense; WR Lawrence Arnold, fourth-team offense; LB Craig Young, fourth-team defense.

KU was joined by Texas TCU, Oklahoma, and Kansas State as the schools that had 10 or more preseason selections by Athlon Sports.

• The Kansas baseball team has is first Big 12 Freshman of the Year in program history.

Standout infielder Kodey Shojinaga was named Big 12 Co-Freshman of the Year by the conference on Tuesday after ending the season as one of the best hitting freshmen in the entire country.

Shojinaga led KU with a .380 batting average, which was the second highest in the Big 12 Conference. That average was the seventh highest of any true freshman in the country, according to KU.

Shojinaga — who was recruited from Honolulu, Hawaii, as a catcher but was converted to an infielder — led the Jayhawks in hits (70), multi-hit games (19), on-base percentage (.424) and OPS (.962).

Shojinaga shared the award with Oklahoma State slugger Nolan Schubart.

First-year KU coach Dan Fitzgerald said Shojinaga has excelled in multiple ways for the Jayhawks during his first season.

“Kodey has worked hard and played at a very high level since day one on campus,” Fitzgerald said in a release. “He’s a winner in every way – a 4.0 student, a great teammate, and an elite worker. His success is not surprising, and I could not be more proud of Kodey.”

Shojinaga was one of five Jayhawks to pick up conference honors on Tuesday. Junior Janson Reeder was named to the All-Big 12 First Team for his play as a designated hitter. Reeder, who transferred from Cowley Community College, hit 11 home runs for the Jayhawks and led the team in slugging percentage and doubles. He came up big in conference play, posting a .614 slugging percentage in Big 12 games.

Four players, including Shojinaga, were selected to the All-Big 12 Second Team. In addition to Shojinaga, senior pitcher Collin Baumgartner, senior infielder Cole Elvis, and sophomore outfielder Chase Jans were named to the second team squad.

The awards come as KU is preparing to take on the Big 12’s top team, Texas, in the Big 12 Championships. KU qualified for the double-elimination championship tournament for the first time since 2021 and is seeking to get in a win in the tournament for the first time since 2019.

First pitch against Texas, which is ranked No. 13 in the country, is at 12:30 p.m. at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The game will be broadcast on the ESPN+ streaming service.

• KU softball finished this season with its most conference wins since 2016, and now the head coach of the program has received a contract extension.

Head softball coach Jennifer McFalls finished her fifth season at KU, but it won’t be her last. KU Athletic Director Travis Goff recently announced that KU has extended McFalls’ contract, although the university has not yet released details about the extension.

The Jayhawks did finish the season with a losing record at 25-27, but the Jayhawks finished sixth in the conference with a 5-13 record.

McFalls, who previously was an assistant at Texas, is 94-137 in her tenure with KU. But Goff has credited her with moving the Jayhawk program forward in what is considered one of the toughest softball conferences in America.

“Coach McFalls has our softball program on an exciting upward trajectory,” Goff said in a release. “This season was another positive step forward for the program, earning the most conference wins since 2016 and first Big 12 Championship win since 2007. Coach McFalls has demonstrated a track record of building a healthy culture, developing her student-athletes both off and on the field, and creating momentum in recruiting. We are committed to partnering with her and her staff to push Kansas Softball to even greater heights.”

Among the accomplishment last season were a five-game winning streak — the program’s first since 2019 — and victories over three ranked opponents. KU now has 10 wins over ranked opponents since McFalls arrived in Lawrence.

• A pair of Kansas softball players also have landed postseason honors. Pitcher Lizzy Ludwig was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team, and junior catcher Lyric Moore was a third-team Division I All-Region selection by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.

Ludwig finished the year with a 2.72 ERA, best on the team, and a 5-8 record. Ludwig earlier this month pitched KU to an upset victory over No. 18-ranked Wichita State. Ludwig pitched a complete game in the 3-1 victory.

Moore finished her junior season as an offensive leader for the Jayhawks. She posted team highs in batting average (.303), slugging percentage (.528), total bases (75) and also had 12 doubles and five home runs in 51 games.

• For the second year in a row, a KU rower has won the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award.

Redshirt-freshma Katia Ustiuzhanina, of Kyiv, Ukraine, was named the top newcomer by the conference last week. During the season Ustiuzhanina produced a 2K time that was the best in KU rowing history and a 5K time that was second best in program history. She competes on KU’s first-team Varsity 8 boat, which is the large boat competition that features eight rowers.

Ustiuzhanina became the second rower to be named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and both have gained the recognition recently. Last year, Melia Martin, a product of nearby Eudora High School, was named co-newcomer of the year in the conference.

• You can mark your calendars for some collegiate soccer. The KU women’s soccer team has set its schedule for the 2023 season.

Key nonconference games will include home games against Vanderbilt on Aug. 24 and Missouri on Sept. 3. KU will play a Pac-12 foe on the road when the travel to Washington State on Sept. 10.

KU will host five Big 12 Conference games at their home pitch at Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence. Those games are: Baylor, Sept. 28; Texas, Oct. 1; Houston, Oct. 8; West Virginia, Oct. 15; and Kansas State Oct. 23.

KU — which finished last season with a 9-9-2 record and a seventh-place finish in the 10-team conference — will start its season with a home exhibition match on Aug. 11 against South Dakota State. It opens its season on the road Aug. 17 against Big Ten foe Wisconsin.


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