LAWRENCE, Kan. – Still in the trenches of a grueling road schedule to start the season, Kansas will travel to Omaha, Neb., for a meeting with the top-25 Creighton Bluejays inside the Ryan Center/D.J. Sokol Arena Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Vs. Creighton (Kansas leads, 6-0): The Jayhawks have never lost to the Bluejays, but each of those wins were hard fought, especially those of late. A year ago, KU hosted a Creighton team that was receiving votes in the AVCA poll. Playing the role of the underdog, Kansas took a 2-0 lead before Creighton stormed back to tie the match. In the decisive fifth set, the two teams battled each other down to the wire before KU won by the minimum, 15-13, to pull off the upset. Tuesday’s match is the first meeting in Omaha since Aug. 28, 2010.
FOLLOW THE JAYHAWKS
Fans can listen to radio play-by-play on the Jayhawk Digital Passport, found under the Fan Central tab on KUAthletics.com. Subscriptions are available in daily ($2.95), monthly ($6.95) and yearly ($49.95) increments. Aaron Berlin will have the call. The match will be available to watch on GoCreighton.com for a subscription fee, and as always, fans can get the latest score updates by following @KUVolleyball on Twitter.
· Kansas is looking to protect its perfect record against a highly-skilled Creighton squad. The top-25 Bluejays were picked to win their inaugural BIG EAST season.
· Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. It is her fourth career weekly conference honor and the third of the defensive variety.
· Kansas leads the Big 12 with 14.24 kills per set. Individually, Jarmoc ranks third in the same category (3.76), while junior outside hitter Sara McClinton’s average (3.23) is seventh-best among her conference counterparts.
· Rookie middle blocker Tayler Soucie is finding her groove after four-straight starts. She leads the team, and is fourth in the Big 12, in hitting efficiency (.353) and is second only to Jarmoc for the team’s lead in blocks per set (0.94).
· Saturday’s loss to Arkansas was the first time KU lost a home opener in the Ray Bechard era. The veteran head coach is 15-1 in Lawrence debuts.
· Senior setter Erin McNorton returned to the top of the Big 12 leaderboard with 12.12 assists per set. She is also the second setter in the conference to crack the 300-assists mark this season (Emily Ruetter, 360, Texas Tech).
If history repeats itself, redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc will make her 100th-consecutive start on Tuesday at Creighton. The Calgary, Alberta, Canada native redshirted her freshman season to become more acclimated to American volleyball and has gone on to start every match since.
Nobody is as pumped to play top-25 Creighton on the road as KU’s Nebraska natives Sara McClinton (Omaha), Chelsea Albers (Papillion) and Maggie Anderson (Lincoln). Since Nebraska’s departure from the Big 12, Kansas hasn’t been back to the state to its north until now.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc totaled 24 blocks in a three-match span, good for 1.71 blocks per set to earn her first Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week award of the season. Six matches into 2013, Jarmoc leads the league with 32 total blocks – moving her into second all-time with 443 career blocks at Kansas. Not merely a source for shot rejection, Jarmoc also put up an impressive 49 kills over the same span.
Watching her All-American teacher, freshman middle blocker Tayler Soucie cranked out 26 kills and 15 blocks, registering 2.43 points per set and a combined .356 attack percentage in last week’s action. In what usually is the hardest position to adjust to from high school to college, Soucie has at least four blocks in each of her four starts.
In 2012, Kansas lost the first set only once during the entire pre-conference season. In 2013, Kansas has already faced a 1-0 deficit four times. Twice, however, the Jayhawks rallied from the comeback to win (at Arizona, at Arkansas).
The Jayhawks are making a return trip to Creighton after the Bluejays came to their place last fall. With Kansas as the underdog, the Jayhawks hung on for a thrilling five-set victory, the 950th career win for head coach Ray Bechard. Not only did their head coach have a memorable night, Caroline Jarmoc set her then-career high for kills with 22, while Erin McNorton dished out a personal best 67 assists in the win. Outside hitter Tiana Dockery also added her first career double-double with 15 digs and 15 kills. The Jayhawks offset Creighton’s 20 blocks with an astounding 97 digs.
CLIMBING THE CONFERENCE CHART
Senior libero Brianne Riley recorded her second-straight 20-dig match against Arkansas (9/7), which moves her closer to eighth all-time on the Big 12 Conference's career digs list (1,612), currently held by former Nebraska standout Kayla Banwarth (1,706; 2007-10).
TALK ABOUT CONSISTENT
Of KU’s seven seniors, five are routine starters in the 2013 lineup. Caroline Jarmoc and Brianne Riley are the only four-year starters of the group – and what an impact they’ve had. In Riley’s 90 career starts, she has posted double-digit digs in 83 of them. In Jarmoc’s 99 career starts, she has racked up double-digit kills 55 times.
TOP-25 STREAK BROKEN
For the first time in 13-straight weeks, Kansas is not among the top-25, nor receiving votes, in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division I Coaches Poll.
Before falling to Arkansas (9/7), the last time Kansas lost a five-set decision was to the defending national champion Texas Longhorns at home (11/10/12). KU was 4-1 in five-set matches last year – the first of which was against Creighton.
SCOUTING CREIGHTON (4-1 Overall, 0-0 BIG EAST)
Voted to win its first season as a member of the new BIG EAST Conference, Creighton is led by the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year, Kristen Bernthal Booth. The Bluejays were ranked on the final 2012 AVCA poll and began this year on the preseason poll before jumping to No. 19 after the first week, which included a season-opening win against No. 13 BYU. Creighton’s only loss in the early season came at the hands of Cal out of the PAC-12.
A veteran team, the Jays return many of the stars that powered the team to both a regular season and tournament championship in their farewell season in the MVC in 2012. Junior Kelli Browning is back to lead her team after claiming All-America honorable mention and MVC Defensive Player of the Year honors during her sophomore season. She finished last year tied for the nation’s lead in blocks and currently averages 1.88 per set to accompany her 2.00 kills per set. She and the Creighton front line churn out a foreboding 3.00 blocks per set.
Fellow junior All-MVC honoree, outside hitter Leah McNary, paces the offense with 3.06 kills per set as the Jays average 14.25 as a team. After spending all of her minutes as a right-side hitter in 2012, junior Michelle Sicner has transformed into the team’s starting setter and tallies 10.50 assists per set.
In the back row, sophomore Kate Elman reprises her role as the starting libero after leading all MVC freshmen in digs last season. Her 4.06 digs per set leads a team that digs up 17.44 balls each frame.
HEAD COACH RAY BECHARD
On playing Creighton:
“Last year we played a great five-set match with them here and it turned out to be a really good match for both teams because both teams held up really well throughout their conference season. They won their conference championship and the tournament, which is a very difficult thing to do and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they had a chance to defeat Minnesota. They come right back and get off to a good start this year and have a lot of quality wins already, so it will be a great opportunity for us, but we will have to be at our very best. “
On the talent on their roster:
“They bring back both outside attackers and a middle blocker. Plus, their setter played extensively last year on the right side. They also redshirted a kid who is going to be a really good player for them. So, they are very experienced much like we are and it seems like their new pieces are fitting very well.”
On Creighton’s fan base:
“I’m sure it will be a great environment. It’s similar to the Horejsi Center, so it will be a pretty intimate environment and we have a couple of Nebraska kids on the roster ourselves, so hopefully a Jayhawk contingency will show up there, too.”
On the respect he has for their program:
“I think in any sport at the Division I level there is a fallacy that if they play in a certain conference, then they are below where they should be, when in fact back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Pacific won three-straight NCAA Volleyball Championships and nobody really knew what Pacific was other than a big body of water. Creighton came from a strong volleyball conference with Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Creighton. Now that they have moved on to a new conference I think that they have established their identity in the Missouri Valley and I think they were preseason picked to win their new conference. I think Nebraska produces more Division I volleyball players per capita than any other state. The University of Nebraska can’t recruit them all, so there is a ton of good talent that wants to stay home and play at a school like Creighton.”
Kansas will wrap up its tough stretch of nine-of-10 road matches to start this season at the Inntowner Invitational hosted by Wisconsin, Sept. 13-14. The Jayhawks will face Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Bowling Green in the weekend tournament.