ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Ole Miss | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Francisco
Kansas recaptured a little bit of their pride last year after a 2010 season that had been an epic disaster for the club. The Jayhawks were back over .500, back off the Big XII basement, and back in the NCAA Tournament after the previous season’s calamities. It’s hard to understate how hard the program fell in 2010. Kansas won their fewest amount of games in a season since 1998 and finished a remarkable six points behind tenth place Iowa State while also finishing a mindboggling ten points out of a postseason spot in the Big XII.
It had been a thoroughly atypical type of year for head coach Mark Francis considering he’s helped build Kansas into a team capable of competing in the Big XII on a year-by-year basis. Only the boldest critic would dare criticize Francis, especially after he has back-to-back eighteen win seasons in 2003 and 2004 in his back pocket, the latter coming with a Big XII title, to date the program’s only major trophy. 2008 saw the Jayhawks finish a sparkling twenty-seventh in the final RPI rankings after a trip to the NCAA Second Round. 2009 wasn’t quite as successful, with Kansas finishing on the outer edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Still, the Jayhawks had locked up their eighth season with double digit wins in nine campaigns.
At the beginning of 2010, most probably thought it was likely going to be another normal season for Kansas, meaning mid-table in the Big XII and maybe a challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth. Instead, the club got pummeled on a weekly basis and finished with the lowest points in league play in program history. Seeking to dig themselves out from the crater that was 2010, Kansas started out 2011 with a loss, but this was a different type of loss than many of those the year before, as the Jayhawks battled tooth and nail with Tennessee before falling on an extra time penalty. KU would then show some of their talent with five straight wins, including an excellent 2-1 victory at WCC champs San Diego.
It was become apparent that this Jayhawks side was going to be a thrill a minute bunch, scoring multiple goals in all five of those wins but also having not kept a clean sheet after six matches. The competition ramped up as non-conference play ended, and the results showed the increase in the level of opponent as Kansas lost three of four. The defense was looking shockingly frail at this point, shipping three to Dayton, seven to Florida, and five to Oklahoma State in the league opener. Ironically, the one win in that stretch, a 1-0 decision over Purdue, would also be the club’s only clean sheet all season long.
The Jayhawks’ defense was killing them, but their offense was also proving near impossible to contain, as evidenced by the fact that it’d be until October until a team shut them out. Despite the excitement, Kansas also was 1-3-0 in the league after four conference matches and slipping towards the bubble despite a decent non-conference profile. A 2-2-0 finish in the league wasn’t exactly great, but it was still enough to see the club slide into the postseason as seventh seeds. They entered the Big XII Tournament very much on the bubble though after a horrific 3-0 loss at home in the regular season finale against Oklahoma.
Needing some kind of boost to their profile in the postseason, the club got a small one after drawing 3-3 with Texas A&M before going out on penalties to the Aggies. It was a typical Kansas game, with the Jayhawks stunning A&M by going up 2-0 after seventy-four minutes before somehow conceding three goals in the next five minutes. KU would perhaps rescue their season with three seconds left, as Caroline Kastor equalized to send the teams to extra time, where neither team could score.
Francis’ side did indeed end up in the field of sixty-four and ended up with the honor of hosting a first round match to boot. Georgia were rude visitors though, and made the most of their chances in an even game, scoring twice in the first quarter of an hour after the half to roll to a 2-0 win. It marked only the third time the Jayhawks had been shutout in twenty-one matches all season, though two of those came in the final three games, perhaps pointing to KU running out of gas in the final weeks of the season. Few would begrudge the Jayhawks on their efforts in 2011 though, as a season after a living nightmare, they had bounced back to become one of the nation’s most entertaining teams (for better or for worse) and one that appears to have a bright future in the new look Big XII.
Kansas’ defense will be better in 2012, because they honestly can’t get much worse. The Jayhawks shipped an absurd twenty-one goals in eight league matches last season and forty-six in twenty-one overall in 2011. Credit Francis though for recognizing a chance needed to be made, with the Kansas boss scoring one of the transfer coups of the season by bringing in former Ohio State All-American Cassie Dickerson for her senior season.
Besieged by knee injuries early in her career, Dickerson turned into one of the best defenders in the country in 2010 but had seemingly pressed pause on a playing career to go to law school despite two years of eligibility remaining. As it turns out, that law school happens to be at Kansas, and Dickerson will use her final season of eligibility trying to anchor a Jayhawks defense that needs her experience and skill in the worst way. If her knees hold up and the defense excels, Kansas could be difficult to beat this season given their offense.
After a lethargic 2010, the Jayhawks exploded to life last year with forty-six goals and six players scoring five or more times. The centerpiece is Colombian international Ingrid Vidal, with the sophomore scoring eleven times on just forty-three shots. Almost all of last year’s major contributors look set to return as well, meaning these Jayhawks could be even more explosive with another year to gel.
It was certainly a trial by fire for Kansas’ goalkeepers last season, as they had to clean up the defensive mess in front of them more often than not in 2011. The good news is that both of last year’s netminders look set to return for the new campaign, and last season’s sometimes harrowing experiences have perhaps steeled them for the task ahead. Sophomore Kaitlyn Stroud would appear to be the favorite for the job after seeing roughly two-thirds of the minutes in goal for Kansas last season. After redshirting as a rookie in 2010, Stroud split time with rival Kat Liebetrau for much of the first month of the season before taking over the starting spot full-time early in league play. The Georgia native has improved by leaps and bounds since joining the club and should have a solid grip on the #1 shirt for the foreseeable future.
Liebetrau was the one suffering in goal through the club’s rancid 2010 season and probably suffered some flashbacks during the losses to Florida and Oklahoma State last year, where she started and gave up twelve combined goals. The senior would play just once more after that and looks like the club’s clear #2 in 2012. Stroud should be better with a little more experience, but much of course depends on the performance of the backline in front of her.
OK, there’s no way to be kind about it, this unit got turned into sashimi by opposing offenses last season, and there’s really nowhere to go but up for the beleaguered Kansas defense. The good news for the Jayhawks is that last season’s defense was pretty young, with no senior starters, and Kansas returns all but one starter from that unit this season. The early departure from that starting corps is sophomore Brittany King, who endured a turbulent college career, beginning as a starter at Ole Miss, transferring to Kansas and missing all of 2010 through injury, and then finally starting much of last season in defense. Also departing is Maryl Behm, a reserve who saw action in a handful of games in both of her seasons with the club.
The group’s returning leader looks to be senior Shelby Williamson, one of the club’s most versatile players. Williamson began her career with Kansas as an all-action midfielder, with seven goals as a rookie before moving back into defense in 2010. She stayed there for much of last season but moved back into midfield for the Jayhawks’ final eight matches. The senior is more than capable of filling in where needed and should be one of the first names on the teamsheet no matter her position.
Juniors Madi Hillis and Shannon Renner also look poised to reprise their roles in the starting defense this season. Hillis impressed as one of the club’s top newcomers in 2010, starting seventeen games in midfield before making the move into defense as a sophomore. It was an inspired move, as Hillis was arguably the club’s top defender, starting eighteen matches and finishing second on the club in minutes. Renner began her career at Northern Illinois before transferring to KU before last season. The Overland Park native wouldn’t be awed by the step up in class, starting fifteen matches in her first season with the Jayhawks.
Also competing for starting spots will be sophomores Jami Vaughn and Caroline Van Slambrouck. Vaughn was seldom used as a rookie early on before fighting her way into the starting lineup in the second half of the season and making the first XI in the final ten games of the season. Van Slambrouck was essentially Vaughn’s polar opposite, starting nine matches early on before seeing reserve duty for much of the latter part of her rookie season.
Dickerson is the potential game changer for Kansas though, the senior transfer coming in with the potential to help transform the Jayhawk program. A first-team All-American during her final season with Ohio State, Dickerson helped lead the Buckeyes to a league title and College Cup appearance after successfully conquering a litany of serious knee injuries. Seemingly stepping away from the game to go to law school despite two remaining years of eligibility, Dickerson joins up at KU for one final season while attending law school in Lawrence. The U23 international will always have questions surrounding her knees, but if they hold up and she shakes off the rust quickly, it might just be the transfer coup of the season.
The club also adds strong and physical rookie Kaley Smith a regional ODP mainstay who’s good with the ball at her feet and should immediately contend for time in the backline for the Jayhawks this season. This group was crying out for a veteran leader last season and may have gotten it with the addition of Dickerson. There’s experience and depth in spades, and at the very least, this group should take a substantial step forward this year. If everything comes together, they might just be one of the surprises of the season.
The Jayhawks look a major force going forward this season, and it begins in the engine room in midfield which helped spark KU’s explosive attack last season. With just about everyone set to return, this midfield could be even more dangerous this year. The only expected loss is of graduated senior Jordyn Perdue, one of the club’s top reserves for the past four seasons.
Leading the unit this season is the versatile and deadly Whitney Berry, who enjoyed a breakout season as a junior and will be looking to fire her team to the top of the Big XII as a senior. Berry had shown glimpses of what she was capable of in her first two seasons with the club, starting every match either up front or in the midfield and adding nine assists as a rookie before three goals and three assists in 2010. Last year was something special though, with Berry running the show in midfield and finishing with eight goals and thirteen assists, including an assist on every goal in the 3-2 win over Texas. Berry would also score in four league games for the club while leading the team in shots. The senior needs just six assists to pass Monica Dolinsky as the club’s all-time leader in the category and stands a great chance of doing it given some of the weapons she gets to work with.
Berry figures to have a great running mate in midfield this season in the form of Colombian sophomore Liana Salazar. After featuring at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Salazar made a smooth transition to the college game, starting every match in midfield for the Jayhawks. A All-Region Third Team pick, Salazar was one of the club’s leaders in minutes while being a generally stabilizing force for the club in the middle of the park while also scoring five goals, including three in the club’s last five games. There’s the sense that Salazar is only at the tip of the iceberg with her potential and could be a big part of the Jayhawks’ plans in the present and future.
Junior Amy Grow is the likely other sure thing starter after cracking the first XI in every match last season. Grow was injured as a true freshman and missed all of 2009 but has since rapidly established her place as a starter for the Jayhawks and saw her offensive game develop exponentially last year when she scored five times as a sophomore. With eighteen combined goals from three potential starters, that’s a whole lot of offense for Kansas to be packing in midfield.
Depth shouldn’t be an issue either with plenty of last year’s reserves returning. Seniors Sarah Robbins and Nicole Chrisopulos have both struggled with injuries throughout their KU careers but have solid experience coming off the bench and should be able to spell the starters if needed. Sophomores Kelsey Lyden and Haley Yearout were also reliable options off the bench last season as rookies and could work their way into more minutes this year, though how many more is up for debate with what looks like a strong group in front of them. With so much returning in defense and given their experience in midfield, Williamson and Hillis could also slot in here if needed.
As if Kansas didn’t already have enough depth in midfield, they also make a quality addition in the form of German U17 international center midfielder Hanna Kallmaier. A member of Bayern Munich’s youth setup, Kallmaier has been praised by Francis for both her defensive ability in midfield as well as her ability to create with the ball at her feet. She faces a fight for minutes but could still be a nice option for KU this season and is almost certainly a potential star of the future for the Jayhawks. With the likes of Berry and Salazar heading this deep group up, KU should have one of the league’s best midfields in 2012.
Even if Kansas’ opponents manage to stop the club’s high-octane midfield, they still have to deal with the Jayhawks’ more than capable frontline this year. The group should return mostly intact with the exception of twins Kelsey and Kortney Clifton. The latter had been a starter for the club as a freshman and junior with decent returns in front of goal but, like her sister, was relegated to a reserve role for all of 2011 by the emergence of the club’s young guns up front.
The attack all starts with Vidal for the Jayhawks who more than lived up to the hype after signing with the club following the Women’s World Cup last year. Vidal put nearly 63% of her shots on frame and needed just forty-three shots to net her team leading eleven goals. Though some of Kansas’ more prestigious opponents were able to keep her quiet, she still managed a brace against San Diego in the club’s 2-1 win, showing what she was capable of. Vidal wore down a little towards the end of the year, with just two goals in the league but should be better prepared for the rigors of the college game this year and could turn into a real star for KU.
Vidal certainly appears to have an able striking partner in fellow sophomore Jamie Fletcher. Fletcher was another highly touted recruit for the Jayhawks coming into last season and exploded onto the scene with four goals in the club’s first three games. She’d only score three more times the rest of the season but did add four assists in the club’s final seven games and has plenty of potential still to grow into. The veteran (so to speak) of the group is junior Caroline Kastor, who has started eleven matches in both of her first two seasons with the club and who showed fine offensive growth last year with six goals and seven assists. More steady than explosive, Kastor nonetheless was on fire in the Spring season and makes a great third option for the club in the attack.
Scarily enough, the above three will have both 2012 AND 2013 together, meaning the best is quite likely yet to come for KU. Berry’s spent significant time at forward in her career as well and makes a great alternative option if needed. To this group, Francis adds freshman Ashley Williams, a quick and direct product out of New Mexico who should at the least be a great option off the bench for the Jayhawks this season. This group was mighty dangerous last season when none of the starters were upperclassmen. This season? Look out, KU has the potential to light up a lot of opponents like a pinball machine.
After a few (OK, more than a few) steps back in 2010, Kansas took a big leap forward last year, making the NCAA Tournament and thrilling many despite finishing in mid-table. That’s probably just the appetizer for this season though, as the Jayhawks look well positioned to make some serious noise in the Big XII. With ten starters returning and the addition of some real quality like Dickerson and Kallmaier, the Jayhawks could well be one of the sleepers of the season.
True, Francis has to hope a little experience for the returnees and the steady hand of Dickerson leading the line cures the woeful defense from last season, but if it does, KU could be golden. The offense is still a little green but has no shortage of weapons and could be electric this season if everything clicks. With all the shuffling in the league around them, Kansas is a dark horse for a Big XII title run if it all works out and are a team to watch in the Big XII Tournament. Even if they don’t bring home league silverware, this group has a very real chance of winning a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.