Volleyball conference play is right around the corner, and although conference season doesn't typically start with a big rivalry game, this season is different.
"[Opening against a rival] is unique," coach Ray Bechard said. "I don't know that we [have] before, but we play everybody twice. That's how we do things in the Big 12. The fact that it comes at home this Wednesday when we're playing well, hopefully that will create some opportunity for us."
No. 15 Kansas (12-0) hosts Kansas State (8-4) on Wednesday for the first edition of the Sunflower Showdown. Kansas State may not be ranked, but that doesn't mean the team isn't stacked statistically.
Kansas is ranked nationally in several different areas.
As a team, the Jayhawks are ranked in the top 25 nationally in 6 of 15 categories. Kansas is ranked No. 1 in assists per set (14.36), kills per set (15.46) and in an eight-way tie for No. 1 in winning percentage (1.000). Kansas is No. 4 in hitting percentage (.331), No. 15 in opponent hitting percentage (.136) and No. 24 in service aces per set (1.77).
Individually, Kansas has three athletes ranked nationally in the top 50 in three statistical categories. Sophomore setter Ainise Havili sits at the top of the country in assists per set (12.41). Sophomore right side hitter Kelsie Payne is ranked No. 23 in hitting percentage (.427). Junior libero Cassie Wait is ranked No. 31 in digs per set (4.97).
Kansas State has its fair share of national rankings as well, despite not receiving votes in the latest AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) poll.
The Wildcats are ranked nationally in the top 50 in six of 15 categories. Kansas State is ranked No. 9 in kills per set (14.62), No. 18 in team assists (37.4), No. 25 in assists per set (13.28). No. 26 in digs per set (16.57), No. 27 in hitting percentage (.267) and No. 37 in team kills (687).
Kansas State has a nationally ranked setter as well. Redshirt junior setter Katie Brand is ranked No. 26 in assists per set (11.17) and No. 29 in total assists (525).
The match on Wednesday will be the 102nd time the two teams have played each other. Kansas State holds the all-time ledger 61-40. The Wildcats also hold the all-time record in Lawrence, but with a narrower margin of 28-18.
Bechard doesn't have the best record against Kansas State either, posting an 8-24 record in his 17 complete seasons at Kansas.
Last time the two teams met up — on Nov. 12, 2014 — was a win for the Jayhawks as they were seeking revenge for a narrow 2-3 home loss last October. In the November match, Kansas topped then-No. 23 Kansas State in Manhattan in three straight sets.
Senior outside hitter Tiana Dockery knows Brand personally. Both Dockery and Brand were invited to the USA Collegiate National Team training this summer and played against each other.
"She's an amazing setter," Dockery said of Brand. "It's going to be great to play against her again. I know all the girls are jacked — on both ends."
No. 15 Kansas faces off against Kansas State on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Horejsi Center.