LAWRENCE — They signed the lease two summers ago, hauling in furniture and moving into a big house in the Oread neighborhood near Memorial Stadium. Erin McNorton isn’t quite sure when they started calling the place “The Bungalow,” but she’s pretty sure it was once a reference to the Vanessa Carlton song “White Houses.” One of those college stories that’s easy to forget.
McNorton, a senior setter, and four other current Kansas volleyball players had big plans for the place when they moved in. And while it would be overly simplistic to credit KU’s volleyball renaissance on a simple housing arrangement, McNorton wants to make sure that the Bungalow gets its due.
“We always joke about it,” McNorton says, “The things we do together, nobody else gets to do. The victories, the tough losses … no other friend group gets to go through that.”
On Friday night, the Bungalow mates will try to keep the run going when No. 21 Kansas faces Wichita State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at 6:30 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. If the Jayhawks can beat the Shockers, they will avenge last year’s second-round NCAA loss and move on to play the winner of Creighton-Arkansas on Saturday. KU would be just one win from the first Sweet 16 in school history.
“We just gotta take care of our side of the court,” said senior libero Brianne Riley.
In one sense, McNorton and Riley are just floormates in the house near the football stadium, the neighborhood where most KU students congregate. In another way, the second floor of the Bungalow houses two of the most decorated players in KU volleyball history.
McNorton was selected Big 12 setter of the year after leading the conference in assists for the second straight season, while Riley is the all-time digs leader at Kansas. Along with senior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc, they have paved the way for the best two-year stretch in program history. After finishing 26-7 last season, Kansas backed it up with a 23-7 record and a second-place finish in the Big 12, the first in school history. Kansas coach Ray Bechard was voted Big 12 coach of the year for the second straight year.
Even more unusual: Both McNorton, a native of Plano, Texas, and Riley, a native of Naperville, Ill., arrived in Lawrence as walk-ons.
McNorton, whose father Kent played football at Kansas State, had family in Topeka and was already planning on attending Kansas when a Jayhawks assistant called and asked if she’d consider playing volleyball.
“Why not?” McNorton says now. “I was already coming here.”
In addition to McNorton and Riley, senior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu and senior twins Kara and Amy Wehrs have lived in the Bungalow.
“I think the chemistry of our team is what’s gotten us so far,” Riley says. “Obviously, we have talent, but I think our chemistry has made us what we are.”
In two years, McNorton has learned that Riley is the clean one, and Riley has learned that Kara Wehrs is the most audible snorer. (“Don’t write that,” Riley joked.) And both have given Mathieu more nicknames than she can recount. And next year, McNorton says, they’re passing off the Bungalow to a few underclassmen.
You know, just in case it really is the house.