KU Fall Sports Preview: New and old shaping volleyball as home opener nears
photo by: Photo courtesy of Kansas Athletics
Even after just a handful of preseason practices, Kansas volleyball gives all the signals of a Big 12 contender this fall.
Last year’s squad opened the season winning nine consecutive matches before landing at fifth on the conference table headed into the postseason. The Jayhawks’ NCAA tournament run, however, was cut short with a second-round loss to No. 2 seed Nebraska in early December.
The 18-11 (8-8 Big 12) finish earned 25-year KU head coach Ray Bechard a three-year contract extension in the spring. Following his extension, Bechard promoted volunteer team assistant Brian Tate to assistant coach in June.
“I still feel like I have good energy,” Bechard said. “I really like my staff and Travis (Goff) is really leading the charge here athletic department-wide … There’s a great deal of trust there. I think, as a coaching staff, eight to 10 years ago, we weren’t sure if we were going to survive in this league, and now we’re on great footing.”
The headlines didn’t end there for Bechard, either. Filling in the gaps of his roster, Bechard pulled down two key graduate transfers – middle blocker Mykayla Myers from TCU and Reagan Cooper from Texas Tech – this offseason.
The pair, who began their college careers together at Washington State, will be reunited at KU in what ended up being an unexpected package deal, Bechard said. Bechard and the Jayhawks heavily recruited the Texas natives back in 2018.
“They’ve got such a familiarity with the Big 12,” Bechard said. “I think they have a pretty good sense of what’s going on. Now there’s a significant new flavor in the league with the teams we’re adding, but they’ve competed against us for the last three years, so they have a pretty good understanding of what we’re trying to get to.”
Multiple returners will help KU raise the bar higher this fall, too, including last season’s leading scorer in junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady. The Cairo, Egypt, native led the team with 292 kills, 42 aces and 361 total points during her sophomore campaign.
Another Jayhawk sure to pull her weight will be preseason All-Big 12 Conference setter Camryn Turner, who led the team with 1,025 assists through all 111 sets last season. The Topeka-Seaman grad also ended her sophomore year second-best in digs (287) and aces (23).
Even bigger things are expected of Turner this season, including a leadership role, Bechard said.
“(Turner) is making that transition from sophomore to junior, which seems not like a big deal, but it does suddenly create some messaging around, ‘now I’m in the latter stages of my career, and what am I doing to not only create opportunities for myself, but my teammates as well.'”
Several pupils are vying for minutes on this year’s KU roster, but one name swirling in Bechard’s head is true freshman Raegan Burns.
Burns, who reclassified from the class of 2024 to become eligible this fall, committed to KU after a lengthy high school career in Lafayette, Indiana, where she pulled down First Team All-State honors in 2021 and 2022 accumulating over 200 career aces at McCutcheon High.
“(Burns) is talented and has an opportunity to have a good career here as a defensive specialist or libero opportunity,” Bechard said. “We’re excited about that.”
While Bechard continues brewing his starting six, KU’s nonconference schedule has four busy tournaments that surely have his attention as well. A key date is the Shocker Volleyball Classic, which includes matches against Wichita State, Oral Roberts and soon-to-be-reunited former Big 12 foe Colorado.
KU opened its schedule at home with an exhibition game against South Dakota, which it won 3-1, on Aug. 19.