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Gray and Fitzmorris Delivering a Holiday Package for Stanford Volleyball Again

By Greg Echlin

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.”

Credit Al Chang, StanfordPhoto.com, STANFORD, CA – November 3, 2017: Jenna Gray at Maples Pavilion. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Oregon State Beavers, 3-0.

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.

Stanford Volleyball Audriana Fitzmorris Jenna Gray
Audriana Fitzmorris and Jenna Gray both continued their volleyball careers at Stanford and look to repeat last year’s national championship.

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.

A Big Loss for the Chiefs While Buffalo Has Gaines

By Greg Echlin

Down the stretch, if the Kansas City Chiefs’ second-half fade continues, cornerback E.J. Gaines would have mixed emotions about his hometown team.  His Buffalo Bills had a big say on that.

As part of the Bills defense, Gaines and his teammates choked the Chiefs as they gasped for air in the game’s final two minutes.  A suffocating interception by fellow corner Tre’Davious White sealed it when the Chiefs threatened on their final drive of the game.

EJ Gaines
Photo courtesy of University of Missouri Athletics EJ Gaines played college football at the University of Missouri. Gaines was a sixth round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2014.

It resulted in a 16-10 victory for the Bills who are trying to get back on track with Tyrod Taylor re-inserted as their starting quarterback.  The Chiefs offense, meanwhile, was stifled while the fan base gets restless with back-up quarterback Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings while Alex Smith struggles.

The Chiefs picked up only one first down in the opening half.

“They have a lot of weapons on offense, so our main thing was coming out and getting a stop on that last series,” said Gaines, a Fort Osage HS graduate before he went on to play for the Missouri Tigers. “That was the only thing that mattered to us.”

Gaines played his first game at Arrowhead Stadium since 2014, his rookie season with the then-St. Louis Rams as a sixth-round draft choice out of Mizzou.  He set career-high with 30 tickets for what he called a once-in-a-lifetime moment with family and friends at the game.

“It was good to come out here and put on a show.”

It almost turned into a nightmare for Gaines when he was whistled for a personal foul penalty that wasn’t blatant.  But it was significant enough for the Chiefs pick up a valuable chunk of real estate on their final drive of the game.

“That was a tough call,” said Gaines. “That’s something we can’t control with the referees.  That’s something they’ll have to look at and decide if it was the right call.  But Tre’Davious (White) bailed us out, so I can sleep well tonight.”

Arrowhead Stadium sunset
Is the sun setting on 2017 playoff hopes for the Chiefs?

The victory vaulted the Bills back into the heat of the AFC race for a post-season berth.

“It’s huge.  It’s something that that we needed this week after the last few weeks we had,” said Gaines.  “Coming in and competing against a good team as an away team is something we definitely needed.”

And perhaps set up a rematch in the post-season if the Chiefs manage to hold on.

Kansas Alienates Home Crowd Further With Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Audio: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield talks to the media  after winning a road game against Kansas.

By Greg Echlin

Of all the Power 5 football conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pac-12), only Duke’s home game against Georgia Tech over the weekend had a smaller announced crowd (20,141) than the game in Lawrence between Kansas and No. 4 ranked Oklahoma (22,854).

So what did KU’s game captains do to fire up the Jayhawks fans not dressed up in Sooners gear? Refuse to shake hands at the coin toss with Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield.  How about that for upperclassmen leadership!  Really?

To top it off, after the game, when Jayhawks third-year coach David Beaty was asked from the outset of his post-game news conference about the gestures—or in this case a non-gesture—of his captains, he responded, “You’re going to stick your feet in the ground and you’re going to defend your grass.  I think we’ve got to display it better than that, obviously, but I get it.”

Beaty added, “I understand where they’re coming from.  I’ve got to do a better job as their coach.  Maybe teaching them how to manage that a little better.”

Isn’t sportsmanship one of the first basic principles taught at the beginner’s level of any sport?

Granted, Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t handle himself well later in the game with some of the gestures he made.  But the tone was already set for that type of behavior with KU’s display by its three game captains—Joe Dineen Jr., Dorance Armstrong Jr. and Daniel Wise—before the kickoff.  Then in the Jayhawks post-game interview room, only Lawrence native Dineen Jr. addressed questions while the other two Jayhawks players ducked out.

Mayfield, on the other hand, was openly apologetic in the compact visitors media room and then later on through Twitter.  His actions overshadowed the clinching of a berth in the Big 12 title game by OU (10-1, 7-1).

If KU wants to make statement, here’s a novel idea: Play better than losing to the Sooners, 41-3, and dropping to 1-10 (0-8 in the Big 12) this season.

It’s bad enough to alienate a fan base so badly that, if it’s not a KU basketball game, it largely wasn’t even aware the Jayhawks were playing their last football home game of the year.  It’s not hard to explain why more and more aren’t showing up.  Adding insult, KU is in the midst of a true road game losing streak—45 straight—that’s the worst ever among major college football programs.

The immediate outlook doesn’t look any more promising as KU focuses on its final game of the year at Oklahoma State.