Former Hayden volleyball star is key piece for No. 4 Kansas

Courtesy: KU Athletics

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The 2017 season will mark the 20th for Ray Bechard on the sidelines of the KU volleyball program and on Wednesday he took the podium to preview his 8th-ranked Jayhawks during Fall Sports Media Day.

Senior Addie Barry is expected to play a much bigger role in the 2017 season after the graduation of Cassie Wait. Barry is a libero/defensive specialist from Topeka.

She went to school at Hayden High School and was a standout for the Wildcats during her high school career.

Opening statement:
Thanks to all of you for coming out. It’s great to see a nice number of folks with an interest in KU’s fall sports. There are a couple unique things happening this year. The fact that the volleyball coach has lasted 20 years here is unique. I’m excited to start my 20th year here. For that to coincide with the 50th anniversary of women playing sports here at the University of Kansas, I’m very excited about that. When we broke our huddle this morning in practice, I talked to the team a little bit about the number of people who paved the way for us to have the opportunities we have. I know throughout the year we are going to do a good job of thanking the people who were involved with that.

Preseason camp update:
We started training a week ago Tuesday and we are extremely excited about getting the season underway. Things have gone extremely well with one exception. Patricia Montero, two days ago, had an unfortunate ACL injury in practice which is going to end her season. Patricia also tore her ACL before she got here (as a true freshman in 2015) and worked extremely hard the last two years to get back into it. There was nobody playing as well as what she was during our two-a-days. We know that she will get great care here. We know that she’ll have an opportunity to be supported at a high level by all of us. A year from now, we will be talking about Montero again and how well she is going to help us.

We are excited about the fact that we have a lot of depth this year in a lot of different places.

On KU’s setters:
Obviously at the setter position, when you have a setter like Ainise Havili back, that’s a good place to start. But Annika Carlson has come in and done a nice job in the backup role as a freshman. Gabby Simpson, a transfer from Colorado, who can set and attack left-handed adds another whole element to our gym. From that standpoint, I think we are in great, great hands with those young ladies. Ainise is going to run the show for us and is poised to have a great senior season. She is as determined as she has ever been.

On KU’s hitters:
The opposite and outside hitting positions have Kelsie Payne back playing at a high level. She got the opportunity to travel this summer and play internationally. Madison Rigdon took an international trip this summer as well. She is again playing at a very high level. We are very excited about those two returning. Jada Burse – we think the jump between freshman and sophomore year is the most dramatic and we are seeing that in her. We are excited about her and Ashley Smith. We can throw Gabby Simpson into that mix, too, because of the way she can attack. We think on the pins – the outside hitting position – there is going to be great competition and great depth. Patty (Patricia Montero) was right in the mix before she went down (with an injury). We still have plenty of folks to (be successful).

On KU’s middle blockers:
We have four young ladies in the middle. We will miss Tayler Soucie, but Taylor Alexander, a transfer from Ole Miss, has come in and led well. She has one year of eligibility left and she is playing like she really wants to be part of something special. Kayla Cheadle is back. Mmachi Nwoke along with Zoe Hill, who played quite a bit last year.

On KU’s starting lineup:
The one thing that is a little bit different about this time of year is that last year I think we were pretty set on what our lineup would look like. I can tell you Havili will be out there for sure. Obviously, Payne and Rigdon are going to be out there. After that, we have a lot of positions that we are trying to clarify. One of those is the libero positions.

We lost a premier player in Cassie Wait. Allie Nelson didn’t play a lot as a freshman, but once again the jump from freshman to sophomore year — we have seen that in her. Addie Barry has been great, as with Tori Miller and Jacqui Mostrom. That will be a very competitive situation, too. I don’t think we’ll make that decision until after the exhibition on Saturday. Next Monday we will have to get ready to roll with who we think can get us to where we want to go.

On the outlook of KU’s schedule:
We do have an exhibition here Saturday. It is the first year that the NCAA has allowed volleyball to have an exhibition before you step onto the floor for your regular season. We are excited about getting in front of some fans and playing UMKC. After that, it gets real for us. We felt like last year we were just a step from being a top-four seed because of our pre-conference schedule. So at NC State with Missouri State — who is probably going to win the (Missouri) Valley — and NC State who is going to be very good, followed by the Utah Valley tournament with Long Beach State. Our home schedule gets interesting when we have Kentucky here on Labor Day and Purdue and Creighton for our home tournament. We have never had three (top-15) teams like that in here in a pre-conference schedule before. Creighton, as you know, was an elite eight team last year with everybody back. Kentucky thinks they can be a final four team. Purdue thinks they are a top-10 team also. That is going to be some great volleyball to play early in the season. At the Santa Clara Tournament, what we’ll is some really good teams.

This nonconference schedule sets us up for what will be an outstanding Big 12 Conference season. As you know, Texas was the No. 1 ranked team in the first (AVCA national) poll, so it starts there. But don’t sleep on Baylor. I thought he did as good a job as anybody — Coach (Ryan) McGuyre. They have everybody back and healthy. As the Big 12 goes, we are poised to have a great year as a conference.

Kansas opens the season with an exhibition contest against UMKC on Saturday at 1 p.m., inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

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