For the first time since the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the Kansas State football team capped its season with back-to-back bowl game wins after beating UCLA in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26.
But for all the hopes that were raised for this season after beating Texas A&M last year in Houston, and the projections to follow for 2018 after KSU’s victory in Phoenix, there’s a far bigger question that looms as covered in this story. Link to story at KCUR.org
While the Kansas Jayhawks approach the Big 12 Conference season they’ll try to end an ongoing struggle against Pac-12 teams that continues from last season.
The Jayhawks (9-2) can break their three-game losing streak against Pac-12 teams when they play Stanford (6-6) in Sacramento for a neutral site game in Pac-12 territory.
The streak started with the heartbreaking Elite Eight game against Oregon last season when the Jayhawks were expected to use the Sprint Center venue in Kansas City to its advantage and gain a Final Four berth in Glendale, AZ. Then KU’s struggles against Pac-12 teams spilled over to this season with back-to-back losses.
Arizona State ranked sixth in the Pac- 12 preseason poll, but has been on a crash course to the top, is undefeated with another notable Big 12 win against Kansas State. Breaking the top-5 in the most recent AP poll, the Sun Devils have a group of explosive guards who easily scored over 20-points apiece against Kansas, and sit pretty going into conference play.
With the conference season around the corner, Kansas could use anything positive going forward. And it seems like the focus is to make adjustments with the current lineup. Seven guys get regular playing time right now with pending additions of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. Arizona St. transfer Sam Cunliffe could also make his third appearance of the year against Stanford.
The Jayhawks jumped to a ten-point lead against ASU, and looked like they were going to wash out the bad taste left over from the loss to Washington. Coach Bill Self said, “I thought we were really good, probably the best we’ve played all year the first three or four minutes.”
ASU battled and eventually took the lead during a 15-0 run with about 14:30 left in the second half. From there the Jayhawks looked deflated.
“Our defense was as bad as it was against Washington there in the second half after we got a little bit tired,” Self said.
Audriana Fitzmorris and Jenna Gray played side-by-side at St. James High School in suburban Kansas City. But believe it or not they didn’t know for sure where the other was going until Gray, a 6’1” setter, and Fitzmorris, a 6’6” middle blocker, had signed letters-of-intent with Stanford.
Though it may have seemed like a package deal for then-coach John Dunning, it was not.
“We didn’t talk a whole lot about it before,” Gray said. “We were both really focused in (high) school and at one of the top programs for volleyball.”
In their sophomore seasons with The Cardinal, Fitzmorris was named First Team All-Pac 12 and Gray tabbed the Pac 12 Setter of the Year. As one of four regional hosts, No. 3 Stanford (28-2), the defending NCAA champion, takes on unseeded Wisconsin (22-9) in a regional semi (8 p.m. PT) before the winner advances to face either No. 11 Utah or sixth-seeded Texas for the right to play in Kansas City for the NCAA championship.
“I think that Kansas City is a great place for it to be hosted this year,” Fitzmorris. “It’s a great opportunity to see the game of volleyball and support women’s sports.”
Not to mention that it would be a homecoming trip for Gray and Fitzmorris.
Kevin Hambly, successor to the retired Dunning on The Farm after eight seasons at Illinois, is glad the tandem didn’t go their separate ways.
“We kept the cards held at our chest the entire time,” said Gray, though each had an inkling since both took a Palo Alto recruiting trip at the same time.
Gray added, “We still talked a lot about how much we loved Stanford after our visits.”
Gray accounted for 35 of Stanford’s 39 assists in the The Cardinal’s second-round victory (3-0) over Colorado State. Stanford has yet to lose a set in the first two rounds. After a match-high ten kills and hitting a career-high .833 in the first round victory over CSU-Bakersfield, Fitzmorris contributed with eight kills and seven blocks against the Rams.
Their high school coach at St. James was Nancy Dorsey, a former volleyball player at the University of Kansas. But when it was time to decide on where to attend college, Fitzmorris said there was no swaying toward Lawrence.
“She (Dorsey) was a very supportive person to be in contact with coaches, a coach that I really trusted throughout the recruiting process.,” said Fitzmorris.
With Stanford being so far from K.C., Gray said it’s nice to have a familiar face from her same hometown. From experiencing the national championship moment last year to dealing with the unexpected news of Dunning’s retirement shortly after.
“There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of changes. You’re not really sure how to adjust. However, everyone gets through them and learns how to adapt,” recalled Fitzmorris, a human biology major who’d like to attend med school after a hoped for international volleyball career.
Gray, meantime, is balancing her academics with three sports at Stanford. She’ll play beach and throw the javelin for The Cardinal track and field team.
“We’ve had a little bit of taste (of it) in high school balancing that, but being here you really, really have to be diligent about getting your work done and timing your weeks,” said Gray.
Their circuitous road map may just lead back to Sprint Center in a couple weeks where they both attended the 2010 women’s volleyball final four.
Carlos Beltran photo above courtesy Keith Allison/flickr
Audio: George Brett in Cooperstown, 1999
By Ian Echlin
I have a special fandom toward Carlos Beltran ever since we were paired on-field. I was an honorary lineup participant around ten years old before a Sunday afternoon ballgame, and our short back-and-forth chat sticks with me to this day. Continue reading Saying Goodbye To Carlos Beltran→