Brianne Riley can still remember the feeling. It was a Sunday last November, and the bracket for the NCAA volleyball tournament was being unveiled. Riley was still just a sophomore, and her Kansas squad was a long shot to make the field. But there was a chance. And she couldn’t help but watch.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
“We didn’t think our name was gonna come up,” said Riley, a junior defensive specialist. “But there was a slight possibility, and it didn’t. And I’ve never been more disappointed about missing out on something.”
One year later, after the best regular-season in school history, Riley and the KU volleyball program can bury the years of disappointment. On Sunday afternoon, the Jayhawks made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. After finishing 25-6 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12, the Jayhawks were selected as the No. 11 overall seed and will host a first- and second-round site at Allen Fieldhouse.
No. 20 Kansas will open with Cleveland State at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Allen Fieldhouse, while Wichita State and Arkansas will face off in the other first-round match. The two winners will play at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 site in Austin, Texas.
“At some point, we’ll look back and say that team did stuff that no other team did,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “But we’re a little bit greedy right now. We want continue to play at a high level.”
For now, though, it’s been a dream season in Lawrence. KU finished third in the Big 12 standings, its best finish in conference history. And the Jayhawks broke a 26-year-old record for the best winning percentage in program history.
Before the season, senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree said Bechard made the team pinky swear that it would be on a plane heading to play in the NCAA tourney at the end of the year. Even then, KU wasn’t dreaming like this.
“We didn’t imagine that we could play at home,” said Tolefree, a Lawrence native. “… So we’ve kept our eyes on that the whole time.”