Volleyball team eager to get back on the court, host NCAA tournament game

By earning its fourth NCAA Tournament bid in program history and first in seven years, the Kansas volleyball team is beginning to get the sort of attention normally reserved for the football or basketball team.

“Jaime (Mathieu, junior defensive specialist) said the other day she walked into Target, no KU gear at all, and a woman stopped her and was like, ‘You don’t know me but congrats on your season,’” senior defensive specialist Morgan Boub said.

Tara Bryant/KANSAN
Junior libero Brianne Riley dives for a dig in Wednesday’s match against Saint Louis University. Riley set the University of Kansas record for number of career digs in Saturday’s match against Texas Tech. She finished the match with 11 digs to give her 1,459 for her career.

The team’s success has attracted fans who might not have ever seen them play before. In the team’s only regular season match at Allen Fieldhouse, the site of this Friday’s 6:30 p.m. first-round matchup between the Jayhawks and the Cleveland State Vikings, 3,222 fans watched Kansas defeat Saint Louis. The Jayhawks’ normal home, the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, holds 1,300 fans.

Even though the Jayhawks are playing at home, they must get used to playing in Allen Fieldhouse instead of Horejsi. Besides the victory against Saint Louis, Kansas will have practiced for six days in the Fieldhouse by Friday’s match, keeping its routine as close to normal as possible despite the change in venue and not playing its typical Wednesday match.

Boub, junior setter Erin McNorton and junior defensive specialist Brianne Riley said the Jayhawks are adjusted to the way the ball moves and the depth perception issues of playing in a larger arena. Now, they are just looking forward to the chance to play in front of what will likely be the largest crowd of the year.

“We are at home and we get to be in our own locker room,” Riley said. “We have all of our fans here which makes such a huge difference.”

By earning the tournament’s 11th overall seed, Kansas hosts the first and second round. If the Jayhawks defeat Cleveland State Friday and then dispose of the winner of the Arkansas-Wichita State match on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Kansas will go to Austin, Texas, for the program’s first-ever regional semifinal appearance.

Although Cleveland State is a mid-major from the Horizon League, the Vikings finished the year with a 23-6 record, won their conference tournament and ride a 13-match winning streak into Friday’s match against the Jayhawks.

“Well you can play anybody this time of year, and if you don’t show up you’re done,” coach Ray Bechard said. “We have every intent of preparing for Cleveland State like it’s a quality Big 12 opponent, because that’s where they would fit into our league, is a quality Big 12 team.”

The Vikings’ only win against an NCAA Tournament team was against IPFW. Cleveland State did beat major-conference opponents Indiana, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh finished in the middle of its respective conferences, while Indiana and West Virginia finished near the bottom.

Senior outside hitter Kara Koch leads the Vikings with 4.71 kills per set, which is good for seventh in the NCAA. Cleveland State has two other hitters that average at least two kills per set. Bechard said both the Jayhawks’ front and back row would have to work together to slow down Koch’s attack while still respecting the Vikings’ other hitters.

“If you can’t get good touches at the net with her, you better funnel the ball to the area you want to funnel it to,” Bechard said. “But she’s pretty diverse in that she can hit from the back row, front row, much probably like an Allison Mayfield last year, who had a ton of reps because she was a six-rotation player, and we set her across the front and the back.”

Although this is Kansas’ first time ever hosting an NCAA Tournament match and its first appearance in the tournament in seven years, Boub said the Jayhawks are excited, not nervous, and are ready to play now.

“Enough practicing, we just want to play,” Boub said.

If Kansas does beat Cleveland State, a matchup with either Wichita State or Arkansas awaits. The Razorbacks defeated Kansas in the season’s opening weekend, but Kansas felt like it controlled the match and should have left with a victory. Boub said the Jayhawks do hope they can play Arkansas if they beat Cleveland State.

“Well in my mind I would be so excited for that, a chance to beat them and get revenge almost,” Boub said. “I think it’s in everyone’s minds.”

  • Updated Nov. 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm
  • Edited by Stéphane Roque