Category: Multimedia stories

Tolefree defines Kansas volleyball

By Max Goodwin

Senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree grew up in Lawrence. She graduated from Lawrence High School. Tolefree was an all-state selection in 2007 and led the Lions to the state tournament as team captain.

The 6-foot-2 middle blocker knows the people of Lawrence well, and they have watched her whole career, so it meant a lot to her to see 4,478 fans attend her final game as a Jayhawk and cheer every rally. The night would unfortunately end in sadness for Tolefree and those that came to support her.

As the Jayhawks’ historic season skidded to a halt against Wichita State in Allen Fieldhouse, all of the Kansas players appeared to be teary eyed, but for Tolefree the result brought a sense of finality to her time as a Jayhawk.

Tears flooded Tolefree’s eyes.

“I hope that everyone who was here can appreciate the work that we put in.”

It was apparent what this game meant to her by the way her voice shook with emotion as those final words left her mouth. She hardly spoke during the post-game press conference, sitting between teammates Catherine Carmichael and Caroline Jarmoc. Her concentration may have been more focused on fighting back the tears that were building.

One moment Tolefree is on the court leading the Jayhawks – the program she grew up watching – to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. The next, her volleyball career is suddenly over.

“As we know around here,” Coach Ray Bechard said, “the NCAA tournament comes to an abrupt end when you don’t play as well as you would have liked.”

Bechard would have liked to see the middle blockers, Tolefree and Jarmoc, more involved in the offensive game for Kansas. The strength of the Jayhawks is the team’s middle blockers he said, and they were not able to set them up with controlled passes to make kills. Tolefree and Jarmoc had just 17 combined kills, compared to the 31 of Wichita State’s middle blockers.

“Their setter was able to make choices,” Bechard said, “so, they passed the ball to target better than we did.”

Kansas won a closely contested first set, but was dominated by the Shockers for most of the second set. Wichita St. continued that momentum and won the third and fourth set as well.

“The anxiety tends to build for each point that you don’t get,” junior Caroline Jarmoc said. “The gap gets bigger and bigger and to make up one point seems like 10 points.”

It is even more difficult to make up a point when a team is predictable in how they attack, as Bechard said.

Even with the loss this Kansas team still helped Bechard reach his first NCAA tournament since 2005.

“It’s disappointing that you don’t play at your best when you need to, but your opponent has a lot to do with that,” Bechard said. “We’re still extremely proud of the season that we had and these young ladies we have up here.”

For Carmichael and Jarmoc, who sat alongside Bechard at the press conference, there will be another opportunity next season. For Tolefree this is the end. A career ended on the most successful note in school history.

This year’s squad finished the season as the winningest team in program history with a winning percentage of .788. The third-place conference finish, No. 6 RPI and 17-2 home record were also the best in program history, and after winning the first set against Wichita State, the Jayhawks were just two sets away from being the first Kansas volleyball team to reach the Sweet 16.

“They were a fun group to coach, “ Bechard said. “They did a lot of things for the first time.”

The Jayhawks will return with most of their team intact next year, but the graduation of seniors Morgan Boub and Tayler Tolefree, a four-time Academic All-Big 12 first team member, will leave a major hole in the team identity that has been built.

Tolefree is the first Jayhawk to ever record a hitting percentage of 1.000 for a match (West Virginia, 10/29). She is the 2012 Big 12 Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She has started every one of the 91 matches that the Jayhawks have played over the last three years, and has 103 starts in four years.Tolefree

In the four years before Tolefree became a Jayhawk, Kansas did not have a single winning season and compiled a 51-67 record.

Tolefree helped lead the Jayhawks to four consecutive winning seasons. Her career record at Kansas is 74-49.

The improvement that Kansas made from 2005-2008 to 2009-2012 is an average of 5.75 wins per season

Statistics and awards alone can’t describe how important Tolefree’s role has been for Kansas volleyball.

All three Jayhawks at the press-conference were still emotional as they stood up to leave the media room. Tolefree trailed behind her teammates.

“There’s a lot leaving right there in that Tayler Tolefree,” Ray Bechard said as the senior from Lawrence stepped out of the media room doorway and let the door fall shut behind her.

“Nobody defines our program like that kid does.”


Allen Fieldhouse’s dual personality

By Max Goodwin

The historic basketball cathedral known as Allen Fieldhouse rumbles with the noise of pregame rituals for Kansas basketball.

Shredded newspaper rains down over a sea of students wearing red and blue. Some are dressed in costumes, others wave signs. People pack into the upper corners of the Fieldhouse, anywhere they can find a spot. Students let out yells of pure excitement.

All of this is for an exhibition game against Division II Emporia State.

It’s not just Kansas fans that think “The Phog” is the best game day environment. Opponents have said for years that the Fieldhouse is one of the toughest places to play. Big 12 coaches know this especially well.

“I don’t know who has a bigger home court advantage than what KU has,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said at Big 12 media day.

Oklahoma State Coach Travis Ford agreed.

“It is one of the great basketball atmospheres in America,” Ford said. “There are a lot of great places in our league that have great home courts, but it’s definitely at the top.”

The scene when the women’s team is on the court is a bit more tranquil.

As Carolyn Davis wins the tip-off for the Jayhawks, the student section is as full as it’s been all season. The dance team sits in the first row with nobody else behind them. Today they are joined by young girls who will perform with them at halftime. There are scattered screams of young kids in support of their favorite players.

Women’s games tend to have more of a family atmosphere. Often the loudest voice is that of Shade Little, husband of Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.

“Take it, take it, take it,” Little yells as Kansas plays on-ball defense. His voice can be heard throughout the mostly empty Fieldhouse.

That was for a regular season matchup against Big Ten opponent Minnesota.

“Big crowd, small crowd, it really doesn’t matter,” Angel Goodrich said at Kansas media day earlier this year.

Goodrich has said that she prefers to see fans at the game, but she is a competitive person, and as long as the winner of the game is reported and remembered she is going to give everything she has. For the Kansas women’s team, however, it has mostly been small crowds since Goodrich arrived on campus four years ago.

Allen Fieldhouse averaged 2,552 people per game last season for women’s basketball. That was ninth in the Big 12, the only conference team lower on that list is Missouri (no longer in the Big 12). Three of the eight teams that averaged larger crowds than Kansas did not make the NCAA tournament last season as the Jayhawks did.

The Jayhawks made a run to the Sweet 16 in neutral site arenas of the tournament, but that was after finishing the regular season with a 3-6 record at home against Big 12 opponents.

“Your home court is supposed to be your home court,” Goodrich said, “nobody is supposed to come in and beat you on your home court. It was reverse for us. I don’t know why, or what the deal was.”

Angel Goodrich is not one to make excuses, but the dullness of the crowd may have been part of the deal. Kansas finished the season sixth in the overall Big 12 standings, but its home record was ninth in the conference – the same as its home attendance.

In men’s basketball Kansas has ranked first in the conference in attendance for over a quarter century – winning 17 conference championships in that time. Last season Bill Self’s team averaged 16,445 fans per game. That is the tenth most in the nation.

That makes almost six-and-a-half men’s basketball fans for every one person at a women’s game last season.clientdiagram

The atmosphere for men’s games is electric at Kansas, but if Allen Fieldhouse really is one of the best basketball environments in the country shouldn’t the women’s games be supported as well? It would only make sense that the team should at least rank higher than 54th in the nation and ninth in the Big 12, behind Texas Tech and even TCU in home attendance.

There are also not many teams that have success at home without the support from the home fans. Missouri finished last in both the standings and attendance in the conference last season. The two teams with the best home record in the Big 12 were the same two teams with the most fan support as well. The same is true for the men’s teams.

The Kansas women’s basketball program managed to have success last season without a relatively large number of fans consistently showing up to home games. The success just wasn’t at Allen Fieldhouse.

Last season the Jayhawks were the only team in the Big 12 to have more wins on the road than at home.

Now Kansas will attempt to build from the success of last season. The team has earned and deserves the fan support.

The Jayhawks are currently ranked No.22 by the Associated Press. They have an 8-1 record with wins over Creighton, Wake Forest and Minnesota.

“If we continue to do well,” Natalie Knight said, “I think it will get more people to come to our games.”

* Statistics for this story are from and with the help of James Bowman.

Kansas strength and conditioning coaches use technology and data to build muscle

The strength and conditioning staff for Kansas Athletics is one of the best in the nation, that is something that track and field strength coach Joe Staub says he feels confident in saying.

Staub has only been at Kansas for a year, but he has seen the weight room at Kansas develop into one of the most technologically advanced strength training facilities in the country. One piece of that technology was discussed in a story on this site in October featuring the Eliteform system.

This technology can measure the velocity that an athlete lifts the weight and allows strength coaches to determine an athlete’s power and effort in a different way.

“You can define intensity by the load you give somebody,” Staub said. “Some people define intensity as speed. You could say that if you move something super fast, that’s a different intensity than moving something slow.”

Now that intensity is something that can be measured in the KU Anderson Family Strength and Conditioning Center, the strength coaches have been discussing for the past months how they will use the technology to benefit the athletes.

Every athlete is different. “Some athletes are strong, but slow,” Glenn Cain, the strength coach for basketball, said. What he means is that some athletes that are strong generate their power slowly, while some athletes that do not have as much pure strength are able to develop that force at a much faster rate. A term that has become popular in recent years is “fast-twitch” muscles

“There are very few sports in which you reach your absolute maximal speed,” Cain wrote in an e-mail. “and so a limiting factor in performance becomes how quickly you can stop, change direction, and re-accelerate (aka how quickly your muscles can develop force).”

The Kansas strength coaches are still learning all of the ways that the technology in the Anderson Family Strength Center can be used. Staub says that Cain is the one who has used it the most, and has been nicknamed “Mr. Eliteform.”

“So the Eliteform allows us to find out who our most powerful athletes are,” Cain said. “and also gives us a better idea of what type of training each athlete should be doing to become more powerful.”

Joe Staub said that the most important aspect of their job as strength coaches is what he calls “determining the variables.” The amount of weight that the coach puts on the bar is the most important variable, and that along with the athlete who is lifting, determines the velocity that the bar is moved at.

The Kansas strength coaches can also look at the total power generated in watts. The graph that accompanies this story is looking at velocity alone.

The graph shows the data of four track and field athletes’ workouts over the course of five weeks. All four compete in the same event, but due to NCAA regulations and concerns by Kansas Athletics, the names and specific events of the athletes cannot be released. The green and yellow lines on the graph are both women, while the red and blue lines are both men.

The graphic is a visual demonstration of how individual athletes differ from one another, some have the pure strength to lift a lot of weight, while others cannot lift as much weight but can put out a lot of force very quickly. Cain and Staub refer to this difference and how they would look at it as peak vs. average velocity.

The graph also shows how new the technology is to the program, as you can see in the first week one athlete forgot to enter the weight they were lifting and the technology did not calculate their that week.

This is the data that the Kansas strength and conditioning coaches, like Staub and Cain are looking at. Most of what they will do with it is still being determined, but it has already changed how they do their job in some ways.

One thing that has not changed is the purpose that the coaches are working with.

“Generally speaking,” Cain said. “a goal of training is to maintain our strengths while working to improve our weakness, both individually and collectively as a team.”

***** Please click on the link below to view the graph that accompanies this story. *****


Angel Goodrich plays the Native game

Angel Goodrich inspired her Cherokee tribe by earning the first division-one scholarship for an athlete from Sequoyah HS in Tahlequah, Okla.  She continues to inspire Native Americans through her game in Lawrence, Kan. Family has not only guided Goodrich but molded her game.

By Max Goodwin

Native Americans were among the first people to embrace basketball in the game’s early years. Basketball would become a part of their culture for the next century in many Native American communities.

Basketball is a game that senior point guard Angel Goodrich, who is half-Cherokee, has always had fun playing. It’s a game that inspires childhood memories of family, friends and community.

“It’s just something I want to do,” Goodrich said, sitting down in the women’s basketball media office last week, three days after the first exhibition of the season. “It’s a game I want to do until I can’t do it anymore,”

Angel learned the game with her brother, Zach. He was 11-months older than Angel, which gave her the opportunity to always play “up”. Listening to the advice of her mother, Fayth, Angel would never play anybody her own age and most of the time played against guys. Angel developed her own unique style based on quickness, deceptiveness and aggressiveness.

She had to play that way, at 5-feet-4′ Goodrich is the smallest starting player in the Big 12 (only TCU’s Meagan Henson is smaller). The whole Goodrich family is small Angel says. That never stopped them from playing the game they love though, it just made them play it a certain way.

Angel and Zach didn’t play in AAU leagues, they didn’t have regular coaches. Fayth would bring the kids to tournaments and let them play. There were no set-plays, just running up-and-down the court and enjoying the freedom of the game.

“It was just like we would hear about a tournament and it was just ‘oh, you want to go play?’ ‘yeah, let’s go play.’” Goodrich said. “We would gather up some friends and we would play.”

Basketball was a big deal in Angel’s community of Tahlequah, Okla. especially once Goodrich emerged at Sequoyah High School, an all-Native American school in Cherokee County. When Kansas began recruiting Goodrich, coaches would have to call Sequoya HS ahead of time, or there would be no place to sit in the sold-out gym.

Sequoyah won with Goodrich as their point guard – a lot. In her first three years the Lady Indians won three straight 3A state championships. Goodrich’s senior season ended with Sequoyah just three points away from winning a fourth. Even so, Goodrich’s game had inspired the support of people in Tahlequah.

“It was amazing how many people came to our games and how big the Native community came and supported us” Goodrich said.

Native Americans have struggled to find their place in the game despite the fact that basketball has been a part of Native American culture for more than a century. In 2009-10 the NCAA Student-Athlete Ethnicity Report stated that just 0.3 percent of NCAA division I women’s basketball players were American-Indian.

In James Naismith’s book ‘Basketball; Its Origin and development’ he described how Native Americans were among the first people to take to the sport and how they played the game with their own style.

“Besides, the Indian teams are usually made up of comparatively small men,” Naismith wrote. “The fact is a distinct handicap to them; but their ability to move quickly and their art of deception overcome the disadvantage of their height, so that wherever these teams play they are assured a large crowd of spectators.”

About 71-years after those words were published, on the court named for the man who originally wrote them, Angel Goodrich is running across the lane, looming behind a wall of overgrown post players, hidden from the view of the Washburn point guard who dribbles the ball at the top of the arc in Kansas first exhibition of the season. Just as the guard makes the pass out to the wing, the diminutive Goodrich springs into the passing lane before taking off down the court with the ball on a fast break. The art of deception, the quick movement overcoming her disadvantage in height and turning it into an advantage.

By not copying her game from anybody and learning to play the way that came naturally and fit her, Angel Goodrich’s game became a perfect representation of the past Native Americans, who were among the first to embrace the sport.

The way that Goodrich plays links the game to its history. The way she carries herself serves as an example for the future players.  She has been a role model since playing in front of packed gyms in high school, when young kids would wander on to the court after games and hug her, for no reason she says.

Goodrich’s picture has been displayed on posters around campus as one of 24 examples of KU Women of Distinction. She is one of 30 seniors in women’s college basketball that has been named a candidate for this season’s Senior CLASS Award, which focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages them to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities.

It was Zach, her older brother that served as Angel’s role model. She watched as Zach struggled just to get playing time because of his height in high school. Then she saw as he achieved his goal of playing college ball at Sterling College. Zach was named a NAIA Division II second-team All-American last season in his senior year.

“The adversity he had to go through made me see a lot in him,” Angel said. “That kind of pushed me.”

It all seems to go back to family.

“My mom has always pushed me to not let anyone tell me what I can and cannot do,” Angel said. “Just her, my brother, just my whole family, we’re all small, just hearing the support and them being there and us just teaching each other to just keep pushing has probably built me to the person I am now.”

When she talks about playing at the next level, the WNBA, her speech slows, and every word becomes clearer. She knows what something like that would mean to her community and the people that have watched her game grow and flourish.

“That is definitely one of my dreams,” Goodrich said. “For it to mean something to other Native Americans that would mean so much. To see them look up to me and say ‘she made it, she did something.’

Where women fit in athletic administration.

Diamond Dixon stands with her Olympic gold medal around her neck and a smile on her face as she speaks to Julie Hermann, Senior Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Louisville and president of National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators.

A line of women wait to have their picture taken with Dixon as the song “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys blasts from the speakers of this Kansas City, Mo, convention room. These women are coaches, directors, trainers, and athletes; here for the annual NACWAA convention where Diamond Dixon was one of three guests of honor for the organizations “Olympic Salute”.

According to their website, NACWAA’s mission is to empower, develop and advance women in athletics. That is why these hundreds of members meet annually, this year in the city of the organization’s headquarters, Kansas City, Mo. A major theme of the convention was helping women reach for job positions such as director of athletics at the Division I level of the NCAA.

A study in 2010 at the University of Central Florida stated that just 8.3% of those jobs are filled by women. According to the same study 31.1 percent of assistant directors of athletics in D-I are women.

“Women are strong, they’ve obviously proven their worth and hopefully they get it in their head that women can do the same job that a man can do,” Dixon said on stage at the convention.

Dixon said in an interview after meeting the NACWAA members that she could see herself one day being some sort of athletic administrator. She also said that some women may not think of reaching for a job of that caliber and that it is important for women to realize what they are capable of.

Two days later Andrea Hudy, assistant athletics director for sports performance at KU, was at the convention for a session titled “Get fit with Hudy.”

A few days after the convention, Hudy spoke of her experience both at the convention and in her career as an athletic administrator. She said that being a woman who trains male athletes for strength has especially come with challenges.

“If somebody has never met a female that has a position such as this, then they’re kind of not open to it,” Hudy said. “So, it’s educating people. But then there are other people that walk in and there’s no problem.”

In coaching at the Division I level, women still represent the minority even in women’s sports. In men’s sports they are nonexistent, despite the number of men coaching in the women game. The NCAA has nothing to do with giving women these opportunities Hudy said. It is the programs themselves at a grassroots level that would need to make a change before more women are seen as administrators and coaches.

Education is required, to open the minds of some of the individuals running athletics programs, Hudy said. There are good and bad coaches of each gender. How a coach or administrator fits at the program is what matters Hudy said.

“When you find the right fit and you find the right support and the right arena,” Hudy said. “Then people can flourish.”

Diamond Dixon saunters a few feet from the door of the convention hall as she leaves. Something seems to have caught her gaze. It is a bronze statue of Jody Conradt, former women’s basketball coach at the University of Texas and 2010 NACWAA Lifetime Achievement and Legacy Award winner.

Dixon admires the statue for a moment. A figure of the future in women’s sports staring down the bronzed, unmoving past. Maybe there is a thought of what she said earlier, that she could definitely see herself becoming an athletic administrator or coach one day. That more women should take that opportunity.

Before Diamond Dixon took the stage, President of NACWAA Julie Hermann reminded the group of women administrators that there is a lot to celebrate in the past 40 years for women in the Title IX era, but it is the next 40 years that demand attention.



Max Goodwin: It has been 40 years since Title IX and still just over eight percent of NCAA athletic directors are women, and 31 percent of assistant athletic directors are women. One of them being Andrea Hudy here at KU. Hudy works on strength and conditioning with both men’s and women’s basketball teams. This is what she had to say when asked whether she sees women as motivated to strive for a job in athletic administration as men.

Andre Hudy: Yeah, it depends on the individual. It could be a male, it could be a female. I think wher somebody’s driven, uhmm, if somebody knows what they want to do and they know what they want, it might be a challenge to get it but eventually their gonna get it. I don’t care who you are.

I think from the Title IX era, that whole 40 years has led to me having this opportunity for sure.

Goodwin: Diamond Dixon has recently learned how Title IX has given her opportunities that women did not have in the past. Dixon was a special guest at the NACWAA convention in Kansas City over fall break. She was introduced to a member audience woman coaches and administrators.

Diamond Dixon: It’s equal and there should be more women supporters and more administrators. It should be equal, I’m not saying there should be more women than men, but it should be equal. I’m just surprised, but at the same time some women probably don’t think to go for a job like that. So, more women should go for a job like that. I feel like women could do a really good job of that.

Goodwin: When you are finished with track and field one day, can you see yourself becoming some sort of athletic administrator?

Dixon: I definitely could. I mean I can see myself doing that while I’m running, I’m a multi-tasker. I mean that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to doing. I’m majoring in communications so talking and stuff like that is pretty much in my book right now.