The #5 ranked University of Kansas volleyball team begins their 2016 season tonight on the road in Starkville, MS, participating in the Bulldog Invitational. The Jayhawks will play the host school Mississippi State at 7:00 pm. They continue play in the Bulldog Invitational on Saturday vs. Eastern Washington at 10 am, and vs. Lamar at 5 pm.
The Jayhawks are coming off their most successful campaign in program history, advancing to their first ever Volleyball Final Four in Omaha, NE. They finished the season ranked #4 in the nation with a 30-3 record. Their only losses last season were to the two teams that played for the National Championship, Nebraska and Texas(twice).
The Jayhawks return five starters from last year’s team, including 2016 All-Americans, junior rightside hitter Kelsie Payne, and junior setter Ainise Havili. Payne was also voted the 2016 Big 12 Conference preseason Player of the Year. Other returning starters being heavily relied upon this season are senior libero and defensive specialist Cassie Wait, a 2013 GEHS graduate, Osawatomie native, senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie, and junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon.
Gardner native Cassie Wait, is the daughter of Darrell and Linda Wait. Cassie’s father was her volleyball coach at GEHS.
Wait is considered to be one of the nation’s top liberos entering the 2016 season. She set KU’s single season “digs per set” record in 2015 with 5.19 digs per set, and totaled 587 digs last season, the second-most ever by a Jayhawk. She ranked 20th in the nation and 2nd in the Big 12 Conference in digs per set, and ranked 30th in the nation and 2nd in the Big 12 in total digs. She helped KU defeat No.1 USC in the Regional Final with 28 digs and 5 assists in five sets. She served during a 6-0 run in the fifth set that completed the victory over USC, sending the Jayhawks to their first ever NCAA Volleyball National Championship semifinal. She was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week three times last season, and was named to the NCAA San Diego Regional All-Tournament team. She was also one of 19 athletes invited by the U.S. Women;s National team to train and compete for a Pan American Cup roster spot in Anaheim, CA, this past June. The KU volleyball team is counting heavily on Wait to be a team leader and major contributor on this year’s team, as she has been the first three years of her career at KU.
The 2016 Jayhawks Volleyball team is coached by Ray Bechard, the 2015 Big 12 Volleyball Coach of the Year. Bechard also received that honor in 2012 and ’13. Bechard again has high hopes for his team this season, which at #5, is the program’s highest preseason national ranking ever. Coach Bechard commented, “At the end of the day, when the season’s over…all this preseason stuff is great…but at the end of the day if we get to the closest we can to the best version of ourselves, I think we’ve had a great year, and I do think we can do some great things this season”.
The KU volleyball team opens their home season on Friday, September 2 vs. Chicago State at noon at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center in Lawrence. They continue play the next day versus Maryland and Arkansas.
Amidst very high national expectations,the Jayhawks hope to repeat the success of last season, and advance even farther in post-season play in 2016.