LAWRENCE, Kan. (KU Athletics) – In what could be an unprecedented season for Kansas volleyball, the program welcomed home a truly unprecedented group of alumnus to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center to play a thrilling alumni match against the current crop of Jayhawks Saturday afternoon.
Instead of the typical intrasquad Crimson and Blue scrimmage, the Jayhawks opened their 2015 season against a six-member alumni squad. The 2015 team swept the first three sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-21) before head coach Ray Bechard intermixed the rosters to shake up the fourth frame, giving the Blue squad a 25-21 victory to close out the afternoon. With several professional players and five members of the 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 squad on their side, the alumni team might rank among the toughest competition it will face this season.
“Now I remember why you love Bri Riley so much, Jaime Mathieu so much, Erin McNorton, Sara McClinton, Catherine Carmichael, Tayler Tolefree, all of them.” Bechard said. “They were a huge part of those banners. They come back and they’re excited to see everybody and to see the new Jayhawks.”
Record-holding names dotted the alumni squad as the program’s all-time digs leader Brianne Riley, 2013 Big 12 Setter of the Year Erin McNorton, top-10 career kills member Sara McClinton were among the Jayhawks who excelled the program to new heights. Saturday afternoon, they combined to give their current counterparts the most game-like situation possible before the season officially opens next weekend.
Led by associate head coach Laura Kuhn, Riley, McNorton, Carmichael, Mathieu, McClinton and Tolefree comprised the rest of the veteran ‘Blue’ crew.
Overall, sophomore middle blocker – turned right side hitter – Kelsie Payne had a match-high 18 kills and four blocks, while sophomore outside hitter Madison Rigdon turned in 11 kills, eight digs and an impressive five service aces. Junior setter Maggie Anderson notched 37 assists, while fellow junior libero Cassie Wait dug a match-best 16 attacks.
The current Jayhawk roster named the ‘Crimson’ had strength in numbers with a roster full of substitutions as the pressure and energy increased in the scrimmage. Led by 10 combined kills from Payne and senior outside hitter Tiana Dockery, the first set had the largest point-spread as the Crimson won by six, 25-19. Carmichael did the scoring for the alumni with five kills of her own.
The final score narrowed in the second set to just a four-point victory for the Crimson, 25-21. Dockery added four more kills in the second set giving her nine through the halfway point of the contest. In the third, Payne came alive to increase her kill total to 13 as the Crimson squeaked out a 25-21 victory.
The fourth and final set was a little different. Instead of running another set of alumni and current Jayhawks, Bechard mixed the two teams together to play a final set of volleyball. McNorton ran the floor on the Crimson side, while Anderson held down the setter position for the Blue. Payne and Rigdon teamed up for eight kills to lead the Blue side to a 25-21 win.
Kansas will officially open the season against Army at the Arkansas Tournament in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Aug. 28-29. The Jayhawks will also face McNeese State and host, Arkansas, over the course of the weekend.