“A different cast of characters,” said Bechard, in his 25th season at Kansas. “We were playing extremely well late last year.”
Kansas had a tough end to the regular season, going 5-3 down the stretch which included getting swept by Texas Tech. Accordingly, Bechard said that might have been “a bit of a wake-up call.”
Kansas is young at a number of key positions — particularly at the pins — but several of them went through last year’s tournament experience, which Bechard hopes will be beneficial.
Where the Jayhawks have a lot of experience is in the middle. Lauren Dooley, a grad student who arrived this season after playing her first four seasons at Florida, not only brings tournament savvy to the lineup, she’s 6-6. Dooley, from Plano, Texas, ranked fifth in the Big 12 at 1.13 blocks per set, and Langs, the other middle, ranked eighth at 1.09 blocks.
“She’s experienced in the NCAA Tournament every year she has competed,” Bechard said about Dooley. “This won’t be overwhelming for her. Certainly Dooley and Langs both can create a physical presence that can offset some of the things Miami wants to do.”
Dooley will have to do better Friday against Nebaraska. She had two kills and two errors in 11 attacks against Miami and three blocks.
Throw in fifth-year outside Anezka Szabo, a 6-3 product of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who averaged a block per set, and it’s a combination that helped Kansas tie for second in the Big 12 in opponent hitting percentage (.181).
On offense, the Jayhawks’ top two scorers were underclassmen: Elnady (2.83 kills per set) and Bien (2.51). Sophomore London Davis, a 6-foot outside from Galena, Ohio, adds 1.83 kills per set.
“Bien went through this experience last year and, obviously, was really, really good late in the year and in the postseason,” Bechard said. “Ayah has been a high performer for us all year.”
And freshman Rhian Swanson, an outside from McPherson, Kansas, has been getting more touches of late. Though she has played in only 24 sets, she came up big in a late-season win over Iowa State with 15 kills and a block. Swanson, who didn’t play against Miami, is averaging 1.17 kills per set in her limited action, which might not be limited much longer.
“She’s got a great future here,” Bechard said. “But for her, the future might be now.”
The setter is Camryn Turner, a 5-8 sophomore from Topeka. She came on strong late last season to help the Jayhawks’ run to the final 16, and she has been solid this season, averaging 9.22 assists with 22 aces and 51 blocks.
“A lot of people think she’s undersized or this or that, but she’s a bulldog of a competitor,” Bechard said. “She’s not afraid to shake it up in the huddle. She’s not afraid to shake it up when we’re out (on the floor).”
Libero Kennedy Farris, a junior from Lansing, Kansas, averages 3.09 digs.
She will likely be busy against Nebraska.
“”We were really good in all phases tonight,” Bechard said after beating Miami. “I thought we served well and passed well, and I’m real happy with the way we played. We’re excited this time of year to keep playing and see what tomorrow brings.”
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