LAWRENCE — For a college volleyball star, Caroline Jarmoc is a little bit of a nerd. She can admit that now, laughing as the words come out.
Maybe it’s her major: Chemical engineering. You should hear the story about that. When Jarmoc, a Kansas redshirt junior, arrived on campus in 2009, she told her academic advisor that she wanted to go the engineering route. The guy looked at her like she was crazy. Jarmoc shrugged. What could be so bad?
“I’ve always been super scientific,” Jarmoc says.
Maybe it’s the personality. Goal-driven and focused one moment, quirky and charming the next. One minute, you may hear Jarmoc fretting about an upcoming Econ test, the next she may be talking about “crushing the dreams” of her opponents, an inside joke among the KU volleyball team all season.
“She has a bunch of different personalities,” says senior teammate Morgan Boub, who has played with Jarmoc for four years.
Standing inside Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday afternoon, Jarmoc is a pretty good symbol for the Kansas volleyball team, a collection of players in the middle of the best season in school history.
The Jayhawks (25-6) will play host to Cleveland State at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and two victories inside Allen Fieldhouse will send KU to its first Sweet 16 in program history.
It’s quite a turnaround for a volleyball program that hadn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2005.
“People are reminding us how good we are,” said KU coach Ray Bechard, who was selected Big 12 coach of the year, “and we gotta remember that it’s good to this point, but the new season starts now.”
In most cases, this is a group that would look pretty good in one of those NCAA commercials about student-athletes. Senior middle blocker Tayler Tolefree is a Lawrence native who was selected the league’s scholar-athlete of the year. And junior Brianne Riley, a native of Naperville, Ill., is a defensive specialist who became the school’s all-time digs leader in just three seasons.
But in the middle of it all — quite literally, actually — is Jarmoc, a native of Calgary, Alberta, the daughter of two Polish immigrants.
On the volleyball court, Jarmoc is both a physical force and tactical engineer. She led the Big 12 in hitting percentage while finishing with the second-most kills in the league.
It’s the kind of success that Bechard envisioned when he saw film of Jarmoc more than four years ago. Next came two recruiting trips to Calgary. And when Jarmoc made her official visit to Kansas, she began comparing all other schools to KU.
After taking a redshirt year in 2009 to work on her strength and stamina, Jarmoc earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors last season as a sophomore. Still, the Jayhawks finished just 15-14. And for someone like Jarmoc, the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament didn’t sit well.
This may be a team of academic overachievers and Type-A personalities, but this is also a group of scrappers and grinders.
“We got some kids that I think would battle if a fight broke out,” Bechard says. “We’d fight.”
On Friday, Jarmoc will play her first NCAA Tournament game. And for a second, she’s talking about how much she’s looking forward to stopping Cleveland State’s top hitter. But first things first: There’s an Econ test the next morning.
“We’ve kind of like moved onto a new chapter,” Jarmoc says. “We’ve made it to the tournament.”
K-State back to Nebraska — K-State Kansas State will open the NCAA volleyball tournament Thursday in Lincoln, Neb., the same place the Wildcats pulled off a historic upset of Nebraska in reaching the Sweet 16 of last year’s tourney.
The Wildcats (21-8) are scheduled to play Northern Iowa at 4:30 p.m. in the first round at the NU Coliseum. Nebraska, the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament, plays Maryland-Eastern Shore in the other match with the winners playing Friday for a spot in the regional semifinals.
Last season, Kansas State’s second-round win over No. 2 Nebraska prevented the Huskers from reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993.
This is the Wildcats’ 14th NCAA Tournament appearance and ninth under coach Suzie Fritz in 12 seasons. The match will be streamed free online at huskers.com.