Kansas volleyball’s Top 10 recruiting class has coach Ray Bechard eyeing bounce-back season

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas head coach Ray Bechard gives instruction to his players during the first set on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017.

The Kansas volleyball team is ready to unveil its rebuilt roster this fall, and head coach Ray Bechard could not be more excited about the names on the list.

After losing a handful of players from last year’s team, both to graduation and the transfer portal, Bechard and his coaching staff set out to fill the vacant spots with tough, dynamic and dedicated players who could make the 2019 team’s 9-17 season more of a bump in the road than a sign of things to come.

In all, 10 newcomers will be with the Jayhawks this fall, joining seven returning players on a roster packed with potential.

Seven of those 10 new faces will be freshmen and the other three come in the form of high-impact transfers from Power 5 programs Mississippi State, Nebraska and UCLA.

“We’re pretty pumped about this group,” Bechard told the Journal-World on Thursday.

Bechard calls himself the “Zoom Captain” these days, and he participates in no fewer than seven Zoom calls a week — three with his team, two with his coaching staff, one with his Big 12 peers and another with KU’s compliance department. And that’s just the regular routine. There occasionally have been more.

But they’ve all been worth it, Bechard said, because he believes it’s a key part of the process of having the volleyball season as currently scheduled.

“You know how fluid this whole deal is,” said Bechard of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on college athletics. “And we’re going to have to have a lot of protocol in place. But right now our plan is, yeah, we’re going to play volleyball this fall.”

With an allowance of eight hours per week of virtual contact with his players, along with restrictions on what that can include, Bechard said he and his assistants have focused a lot on mental health and physical conditioning this spring.

“Obviously we can’t coach them or have that physical interaction,” he said. “But we’re trying to create things for them to look forward to and ways to keep them engaged.”

Included on that list is film review, guest speakers, talk about the playbook and terminology and even breakdown of a book the team is reading together.

“They’re not going to touch the volleyball as much as we would like,” Bechard said. “But if they can stay at pretty good levels of physical and mental health, the other stuff will take care of itself.”

Because of the fact that everything from a start date to final scheduling remains up in the air, Bechard knows he and his team will have to be patient.

But working through the challenges of the pandemic have kept Bechard’s mind occupied. Just last week, KU tweaked its 2020 schedule to get out of a season-opening tournament it would have flown to so it could get into a higher-level event that can be reached by bus ride.

“There’s going to be a lot of that kind of thing,” Bechard said of pandemic-inspired adjustments made by universities and programs all across the country.

Seeing the praise heaped onto his recruiting class has helped him stay energized.

Volley High has KU’s 2020 recruiting class ranked as the 10th best in the nation, and PrepVolleyball.com ranks the Kansas class 11th.

“And that doesn’t even include our three transfers,” Bechard noted. “This group covers a lot of different positions for us and a lot of different needs.”

Those new faces, along with KU’s returning talent, likely will not be back in Lawrence until August. But when they arrive, Bechard said the focus for the entire program would be on moving forward “full speed ahead.”

“The trick will be how we’re going to put this all together in the short time we’ll have before the season starts,” Bechard said.

Here’s a quick look at the 10 new faces that will fill Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena this fall.

The group will join returning Jayhawks Kennedy Farris (sophomore defensive specialist), Rachel Langs (junior middle blocker), Sara Nielsen (senior setter), Gracie Van Driel (sophomore middle blocker), Riley Foltz (redshirt freshman outside hitter), Audri Suter (junior defensive specialist) and Lacey Angello (junior defensive specialist) to make up the 2020 KU roster.

• Caroline Crawford – Freshman middle blocker from Lansing High

Crawford played the first three seasons of her prep career in Liberty, Mo., and started for the youth national team that won a gold medal last year.

• Ayah Elnady – Freshman outside hitter from Cairo, Egypt

The KU coaching staff discovered Elnady while watching film of Crawford on the international scene. A few weeks after seeing her play, the staff received an email about her interest in coming to the United States and it quickly worked to secure her commitment.

• Elise McGhie – Freshman setter from St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Mo.

McGhie is known as a cerebral player, and Bechard said she is very interested in how the game works and why. She’ll have the opportunity to learn from Nielsen.

• Jenny Mosser – Senior outside hitter from UCLA

A graduate transfer who played in 90 matches and 320 sets at UCLA from 2017-19, Mosser is a six-rotation player who Bechard said will bring a lot to the roster both as a player and a leader. She earned AVCA/Under Armour First Team All-American honors as a senior at Lakeville South High in Minnesota.

• Kaiti Parks – Freshman middle blocker from Olathe Northwest High

Parks is known for her relentless motor and work ethic, and Bechard said she has the potential to be the type of player who can inspire the entire roster to reach new heights. Parks has a brother who plays on the Kansas football team.

• Karli Schmidt – Freshman outside hitter from Lansing High

A four-time all-state player and the Class 5A Kansas player of the year in 2019, Schmidt has some serious potential and hopes to follow in the footsteps of a player that Bechard called “maybe the best six-rotation player we’ve had in the history of Kansas volleyball,” in Madison Rigdon.

• Molly Schultz – Freshman defensive specialist/libero from Rockford (Minn.) High

Tough, athletic and powered by what Bechard called “an unbelievable motor,” the first-team all-state selection is known for her enthusiasm and defense.

• Paige Shaw – Junior outside hitter from Mississippi State

Shaw joined the Jayhawks in January after two seasons and more than 200 sets during her freshman and sophomore seasons at Mississippi State. A native of Hoover, Ala., Shaw was rated as the No. 1 prospect on AL.com’s A-List heading into her senior season of high school.

• Anezka Szabo – Junior outside hitter from Nebraska

Originally from Sioux Falls, S.D., this 6-foot-3 left-handed hitter played alongside All-American lefty Jazz Sweet at Nebraska before deciding to transfer to Kansas. Her father, Brett Szabo, played for the NBA’s Boston Celtics during the 1996-97 season. She joined the KU roster in January.

• Kim Whetstone – Freshman middle blocker from Bonner Springs High

Athletic, versatile and full of potential to impact the lineup in a number of ways, Whetstone is a four-time PrepVolleyball.com All-American.

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