Kramer: Big 12 a Big Boost to WVU

  • By John Antonik
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  • May 11, 2012 03:50 PM
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Jill Kramer knows her young West Virginia University volleyball team is going to be tested to its limits playing in the Big 12 Conference this fall.

The Big 12 is perennially among the top volleyball conferences in the country. Last year, seven out of nine schools made the NCAA tournament, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State were ranked among the Top 25, and Baylor, which finished seventh in the Big 12 with a 5-11 record, qualified for the NCAA tournament with an 18-15 overall record.

That gives you a pretty good idea how deep the league is.

“I think anywhere between five and seven teams typically go to the NCAA tournament,” said Kramer.

Kramer is still in the process of rebuilding a Mountaineer volleyball program that has never made it to the NCAA tournament. She took the WVU job just days before preseason practice began two years ago and has been playing catch up ever since. Most coaching staffs are way ahead of the game recruiting two years in advance, but Kramer has been forced to spend most of her time tending to the program’s immediate needs.

“We’ve had two sophomores on campus,” she said. “But we’re getting there. Just like any program starting up you’re going to have turnover, and that’s what we’ve been playing catch up with.”

Because of that, West Virginia is once again going to have one of the country’s youngest teams on the court this fall.

“A little more than half of the group we recruited when we were still in the Big East and we had no clue about the Big 12, and the other half is coming to play Big 12 volleyball,” Kramer explained. “The girls that are already coming are fired up about it.”

Kramer has a strong knowledge of the conference having played and coached in Texas, which just happens to be one of the key states for volleyball recruits. Texas is to volleyball prospects what East Berlin was to spies during the Cold War - everywhere.

“I know a lot of (the players in the conference),” she said. “The funny thing is the kids going in this year I recruited at Virginia. I had on-campus visits with them at Virginia and that’s how far ahead we recruit, and that’s how behind we’ve been the whole time I’ve been here just trying to play catch up.”

The WVU coach also knows several of Texas’ key players during her association with USA volleyball.

“I have to look at the roster, but I know there were five girls on the Texas team who I had coached in the USA programs,” she said. “I know they’ve got some freshmen coming in who I coached, too; three of them were on my team at the World Championships. One of them was the best player on our team and one of them was our setter. Those are the types of kids we are going to go up against.”

Kramer said it will be important for the Mountaineers to enjoy success during the preseason before the conference schedule begins.

“The way we are approaching it is the preseason is the season for us,” Kramer explained. “We’ve scheduled so we can enter the league in good standing and then when we get in there we are going to duke it out for every match. Really, our deal is to try and get into the hunt.”

When volleyball fans come to the Coliseum this year they are going to see some of the best teams in the country because the Big 12 plays a full round-robin schedule, meaning Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma will each be in Morgantown at some point this fall.

“You get a shot at everybody here,” Kramer said. “We will celebrate small victories, for sure, but we’re going out to win every match and we’re going to try and put them in the best position we can to do that.

“It’s going to be unbelievable with literally some of the best teams in the country,” she added. “The biggest deal is we’ve got to create great home environments because it’s everybody’s first time coming here.”

Kramer believes the association with the Big 12 Conference will only make West Virginia a much stronger volleyball program. She says it has already made a difference in their recruiting and she can also see the improvement taking place at her alma mater, TCU, which joins the league this fall as well.

“The league is going to improve from the changes,” she said. “It will happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time.”

2011 Big 12 Volleyball Notes ...

• The American Volleyball Coaches Association ranked Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State in its final poll for 2011. The Longhorns close out the season with the No. 4 ranking, while the Cyclones also made the top 10 at No. 8. The Wildcats earned the No. 22 spot. The Big 12 has finished every season with at least three teams ranked in the final AVCA top 25 poll. All three squads advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals, the sixth straight year the league has sent a trio of teams to the Sweet Sixteen.

• The Conference also finished 2011 with five teams ranked in the NCAA RPI top 30 - tied for the most by a conference. Texas finished second, while Iowa State was third.

• For the first time since 2005, seven Big 12 volleyball squads earned spots in the 2011 NCAA Championship field. The Big 12’s seven selections and three national seeds tied for the second-most among all conferences. It was the third time the Conference has sent seven teams to the postseason (2004 and 2005).

• For the sixth straight year, the league represented with at least three teams in the NCAA Regional Semifinal field, the second-most of all conferences. Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas advanced. It marked the fourth Regional Semifinal appearance for ISU in the past six years, while KSU competed for the first time since 2003 and third overall (2011, 2003, 2000). UT was making its sixth-straight appearance.

•The Big 12 went 9-7 in the 2011 postseason, including a 5-2 mark in the second and Regional Semifinal rounds. The Conference was one of three leagues to advance four or more teams to second round play. The Big 12 improved to 153-97 in the postseason.

• Six Big 12 squads notched 20-win seasons for the first time since 1997 when seven league teams won 20 or more matches. This marks the third-straight year at least five Big 12 teams have recorded 20 or more overall wins and overall is the 11th season that at least five league squads have had 20-plus win seasons.

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