Freshman Tayler Soucie fills big shoes on the volleyball court

Freshman Tayler Soucie (10) celebrates with her team during the Sept. 22, 2014 game against Notre Dame. Soucie earned Big 12 Conference player of the week honors three times this season.

Three matches, three wins, and the Kansas volleyball team is off to its hottest start since 2011. 

Kansas defeated both Army and McNeese State in its first two matches of the season. In the third and final match, the Jayhawks dropped the first set to Arkansas, then bounced back to beat the Razorbacks in four sets to recap the weekend at the Arkansas Tournament.

Kansas swept Army in three sets (25-14, 25-14, 25-20) on Friday. Senior outside hitter Tiana Dockery led the team in offensive production with 15 kills, and sophomore right-side hitter Kelsie Payne hammered out 11 more. Sophomore setter Ainise Havili registered 33 assists during the match, while junior libero Cassie Wait registered 16 digs. 

“I was really happy with the way we came out first and foremost in the first set," coach Ray Bechard said on the KUAthletics postgame radio show. "The first two sets were really clean. Third set got a little bit like volleyball does, some unpredictable bounces, calls don’t quite go your way. We got a nice stretch there late in the third game to put it away.”

On Saturday, the team carried over its momentum from defeating Army and annihilated McNeese State in three sets (25-9, 25-14, 25-10).

Payne paced the Jayhawks on offense with 11 kills, and Dockery came in right behind with nine. On defense, Cassie Wait recorded 32 assists and added eight digs.

"The first set, we really came out and pass and served well — but we were really dominant at the net," coach Ray Bechard said in a news release. "This was a match where our team, who saw them play last night, could have overlooked them a little bit going into the Arkansas match tonight, but they did not. I thought they played at a high level."

Kansas won the team's final match of the weekend, but not as easily as the first two. The Jayhawks dropped the first set against the Razorbacks, but bounced back to win the final three to win the tournament (21-25, 27-25, 25-15, 25-15). 

The Jayhawks offensive brigade of Payne, junior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and outside hitter Madison Rigdon all threw down double digit kills. Payne recorded 19 kills, a new personal career record. Soucie finished the match with 15 kills, and Ridgon amassed 13.

Four Jayhawks earned tournament honors over the weekend. Havili walked away as MVP of the tournament. During the tournament, Havili notched 113 assists and 31 digs. Against Arkansas, Havili came up with 14 digs, a new career high, and recorded her 15th career double double (14 digs, 48 assists).

"My team did really well to make me look good," Havili said after winning the honor. 

Wait earned the Outstanding Libero award for the tournament. Over the three matches, Wait tallied 48 digs.

Dockery and Payne were tabbed to the All-Tournament Team. Payne registered 41 kills over the weekend — 13.7 kills per match. Her performance of 19 kills against Arkansas was a career high. She had another personal record breaking performance against Army, as she shattered her previous career record of digs (3) with 8.

Dockery posted 31 kills in the tournament. This is the second time Dockery appeared on an All-Tournament Team. In 2013, Dockery was named to the Inntowner Invitational All-Tournament Team.

The three wins over the weekend inch coach Ray Bechard closer to 300 wins at Kansas. Going into the Kansas Invitational, he sits at 298 wins.

Bechard already is the winningest coach in Kansas volleyball, as he is about to double up on Frankie Albitz, the second most winningest coach with 150 match wins.

Kansas hosts the Kansas Invitational on Sept. 4 and 5 against Western Illinois, No. 25 Duke and UMKC.