After starting the season 4-4, Kansas has turned things around with seven straight victories. That has come at the perfect time, as they are now 4-0 to get things going in the Big 12.
Leading the resurgence has been the team’s blocking and the progression of a group of players. They have five freshman, two sophomores, six juniors and just one senior on the roster. So 50% of it is underclassmen, and even of the returners there wasn’t a multitude of experience throughout: the team returned just 31.7% of its starts from a season ago.
So far this year, of the team’s 90 individual starts given out, 27 have been to the freshmen, good for 30%. We’ve seen gradual progression as the year has gone on for some of those, such as setter Camryn Ennis, DS/L Lacey Angello and maybe the biggest tide-turner in middle Rachel Langs, who has helped make Kansas an elite blocking team that ranks top 10 in the entire country.
In fact, over the seven game winning streak – with Langs anchoring that defense after not playing as much earlier – Kansas has 104 blocks in 28 sets, good for 3.71 per set. If they did that for a whole season they would crush everyone else for the lead at most in the country. Meanwhile, in the 4-4 start, they had 87 in 36 sets, or 2.42 per set. The ladder still would put them top 60 in the country, but there’s a big difference between that and top 10 now.
Additionally, beyond the freshmen, 47 of the starts – or 52% – have been to players who previously had never started with the Jayhawks before.
Therefore, players who are part of that group progressing as the season has gone on is one part of it. The players who did have starting experience stepping up into bigger roles is another piece of the puzzle.
Chief among those are Zoe Hill, Ashley Smith and Jada Burse, who have all brought their game up to a higher level. Obviously doing so can take some time though. For Hill and Smith it was right off the bat as the season began. What has really changed in leading to the turnaround is the inclusion of Burse into the group.
6’1″ junior outside hitter Jada Burse had notched 86 kills (2.46 per set) on a .167 hitting percentage, 17 blocks (0.49 per set) and 17 digs (0.49 per set) through the team’s 5-4 start. Those would be right in line with what she did in 2017 as a sophomore when she had per set numbers of 2.48 kills (.205), 0.51 digs and 0.34 blocks. But again, for Kansas to get better, they would need a player like Burse to take that next step forward, which is exactly what she has done in the latest stretch.
Over the last seven victories, all wins for Kansas including four in the Big 12, Burse has recorded 115 kills (4.11 per set) on a .286 clip, 18 digs (0.64 per set) and 17 blocks (0.61 per set). If she continues this roll, she won’t just be on pace to rack up some postseason awards, but Kansas will also stay in position to earn a top two or three spot in the Big 12.
That of course, combined with the continued strong block and improvement of the youngsters. Regardless of the end result though, this team has shown a promising future for 2019 and beyond as well. In the moment though, they’ve possibly become Texas’ biggest threat for the conference – again – with a showdown of undefeated Big 12 records this Wednesday in Lawrence.