LAWRENCE — For a college volleyball star, Caroline Jarmoc is a little bit of a nerd. She can admit that now, laughing as the words come out.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Maybe it’s her major: Chemical engineering. You should hear the story about that. When Jarmoc, a Kansas redshirt junior, arrived on campus in 2009, she told her academic advisor that she wanted to go the engineering route. The guy looked at her like she was crazy. Jarmoc shrugged. What could be so bad?
“I’ve always been super scientific,” Jarmoc says.
Maybe it’s the personality. Goal driven and focused one moment, quirky and charming the next. One minute, you may hear Jarmoc fretting about an upcoming Econ test, the next she may be talking about “crushing the dreams” of her opponents, an inside joke among the KU volleyball team all season.
“She has a bunch of different personalities,” says senior teammate Morgan Boub, a Blue Valley West grad who has played with Jarmoc for four years.
Standing inside Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday afternoon, Jarmoc is a pretty good symbol for the Kansas volleyball team, a collection of players in the middle of the best season in school history.
The Jayhawks, 25-6, will play host to Cleveland State at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Allen Fieldhouse. If KU advances, it will play the winner of Wichita State and Arkansas on Saturday night for a chance at the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history.
It’s quite a turnaround for a volleyball program that hadn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
“People are reminding us how good we are,” said KU coach Ray Bechard, who was selected Big 12 coach of the year, “and we gotta remember that it’s good to this point, but the new season starts now.”
In most cases, this is a group that would look pretty good in one of those NCAA commercials about student-athletes. Senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree is a Lawrence native who was selected the league’s scholar-athlete of the year. And junior Brianne Riley, a native of Naperville, Ill., is a defensive specialist who became the school’s all-time digs leader in just three seasons.
But in the middle of it all — quite literally, actually — is Jarmoc, a native of Calgary, Alberta, the daughter of two Polish immigrants.
On the volleyball court, Jarmoc is both a physical force and tactical engineer. She led the Big 12 in hitting percentage while finishing with the second-most kills in the league, meaning nobody was better at combining opportunity and production.
It’s the kind of success that Bechard envisioned when he saw film of Jarmoc more than four years ago. Next came two recruiting trips to Calgary. And when Jarmoc made her official visit to Kansas, she began comparing all other schools to KU.
“I saw a kid that was pretty mature,” Bechard said, “a kid that would take care of her business, and make good decisions. All that’s kind of come together.”
After taking a redshirt year in 2009 to work on her strength and stamina, Jarmoc earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors last season as a sophomore. Still, the Jayhawks finished just 15-14. And for someone like Jarmoc, the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament didn’t sit well.
This may be a team of academic overachievers and Type-A personalities, but this is also a group of scrappers and grinders.
“We got some kids that I think would battle if a fight broke out,” Bechard says. “We’d fight.”
When Bechard says this, it’s easy to imagine that Jarmoc is part of this group. On Friday, she will play her first NCAA Tournament game. And for a second, she’s talking about how much she’s looking forward to stopping Cleveland State’s top hitter. But first things first: There’s an Econ test the next morning.
“We’ve kind of like moved onto a new chapter,” Jarmoc says. “We’ve made it to the tournament.”