LAWRENCE — In hindsight, Kansas volleyball coach Ray Bechard may have scheduled a little softer this fall, at least a little bit.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Last year, the Kansas volleyball program experienced a long-awaited breakthrough, finishing 26-7 and 12-4 in the Big 12. It was perhaps the best season in school history — KU set records for wins and winning percentage — and the Jayhawks played host to NCAA tournament first- and second-round games.
With KU’s nucleus returning in 2013 — including All-American middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc — Bechard pieced together a nonconference slate that would test the mettle of his experienced squad. There are road tests at Arizona, Creighton and Arkansas and home matches against Notre Dame and Georgia. And then there’s the Big 12 regular season, which includes preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Texas.
“We scheduled maybe a little more aggressively than we needed to,” Bechard said.
Kansas will begin that schedule on Friday against Central Arkansas at the Arizona Invitational. And Bechard says it’s time for his program to make the leap from “successful to significant.”
For Bechard, that means going on the road and beating the best teams in the Big 12 — and adding to its recent postseason success. Last year’s run ended with a disappointing loss to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and the Jayhawks are hopeful they have the squad to advance one step further, to the first Sweet 16 in program history.
“I think it was a very good stepping stone for the program we want to become,” said Jarmoc, who led the Jayhawks in kills (424) and blocks (157) in 2012. “But by no means is one season just a face of a program. You have to be consistent and continue on that success.”
If KU does make a step forward, it won’t be all on the shoulders of Jarmoc. Senior libero Brianne Riley, the program’s all-time digs leader, also returns, while senior setter Erin McNorton ranked seventh in the NCAA in assists last season.
The experience is one reason Kansas is ranked No. 20 in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll — the first time KU has garnered a preseason ranking since the poll’s inception in 1982.
“I think we’re perfect to go on the road and have a really good mindset,” Jarmoc said. “We just want to be road warriors and win those matches. ”
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