IRVING, Texas (KU Athletics) – University of Kansas volleyball continued its rise to unprecedented heights on Wednesday as junior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne became the program’s first-ever Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year.
Payne joins senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and junior setter Ainise Havili on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. The same trio represented Kansas on the 2015 Preseason All-Big 12 Team.
“It’s insane and I am honored,” Payne said on Wednesday, six days before preseason camp begins. “With everything that we accomplished, I have to thank my teammates for any individual accolades I receive. I couldn’t do it without my setter, libero, hitters and everyone who took part in helping me get where I am.”
Payne was one of the keystones to a historic 2015 season, helping guide Kansas to a 30-3 record, No. 4 final AVCA ranking, and first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship semifinals. The Austin, Texas native led the Big 12 in kills per set (4.4) and set a Kansas single-season record for total kills (496) on the way to earning some of the top honors in the sport, including AVCA All-America First Team, All-Big 12 First Team and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.
It is the third-straight season Soucie has been named to the preseason team. In each of the past two seasons she has delivered on her potential by earning All-Big 12 First Team honors in 2014 and 2015. Last season the Osawatomie, Kansas native ranked third in the Big 12 in blocks per set (1.23) and sixth in hitting percentage (.354), while totaling six matches with double-figure kills and 11 matches with five or more blocks.
Havili, the reigning Big 12 Setter of the Year and first-team AVCA All-American, set the pace for one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, which ranked fourth in the country in team hitting percentage (.299) and second in the country in kills per set (15.1). The Fort Worth, Texas native led the Big 12 in assists per set (12.1) and total assists (1,371) for the second-straight season while leading Kansas in total aces (31).
Kansas opens the season on Friday, Aug. 26 at Mississippi State with five returning starters from its fourth-ranked 2015 squad.
“A lot of people are expecting big things for our team this season and the things that will help us maintain success is to involve the newcomers early and fall back on our training,” Payne said. “Last year we had great team chemistry and it is important for us to focus in on everyone finding their new role – whatever that might be. The best thing we can do now is to build on what we did last year, but at the same time move on from that and realize that we are starting with a blank slate this season.”
The Big 12 volleyball preseason coaches’ poll is scheduled to be released on Thursday.
BIG 12 PRESEASON AWARDS
Preseason Player of the Year: KELSIE PAYNE, Kansas, Jr., RS, Austin, Texas
Preseason Freshman of the Year: Orie Agbaji, Texas, MB, Kansas City, Mo.
PRESEASON ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
Name, School, Position, Height, Class
~ Shelly Fanning, Baylor, MH, 6-2, So.
* Alexis Conaway, Iowa State, MB/OH, 6-0, Jr.
* Morgan Kurht, Iowa State, OH/RS, 6-1, Sr.
^* AINISE HAVILI, Kansas, S, 5-10, Jr.
^* KELSIE PAYNE, Kansas, RS, 6-3, Jr.
* TAYLER SOUCIE, Kansas, MB, 6-1, Sr.
* Katie Brand, Kansas State, S, 6-1, Jr.
* Marion Hazelwood, Oklahoma, MB, 6-3, Jr.
Madison Ward, Oklahoma, OH, 6-1, Sr.
^~ Ashley Smith, TCU, OH, 6-1, Sr.
^* Chloe Collins, Texas, S, 5-7, Sr.
Ebony Nwanebu, Texas, OH, 6-4, Jr.
^* Chiaka Ogbogu, Texas, MB, 6-2, Sr.
^* Paulina Prieto-Cerame, Texas, OH, 6-2, Sr.
~ Lauren Douglass, Texas Tech, MB/RS, 6-2, Jr.
^ – Unanimous Selection
* – 2015 All-Big 12 First Team honoree
~ – 2015 All-Big 12 Second Team honoree
ALL-TIME KANSAS PRESEASON BIG 12 HONORS
Preseason Player of the Year
Kelsie Payne 
Preseason Newcomer of the Year
Paula Caten 
Preseason Freshman of the Year
Ainise Havili 
Emily Brown