You might describe Cassie Wait as bouncy, or perhaps cheery, or maybe some combination of the two. Her Kansas volleyball teammates would certainly attest to this.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Wait, a graduate of Gardner-Edgerton High, strolled into the Horejsi Family Athletics with a perma-smile on her face and a stockpile of unused kinetic energy. On most days, Wait doesn’t so much practice volleyball as bound around the gym on a mission, the human personification of a positive vibe.
“Everything she does is attack style,” Kansas volleyball coach Ray Bechard says.
For those who know Wait, none of this would qualify as a surprise. She is former state champion pole-vaulter, athletic enough to draw interest from dozens of college track programs. She is one of those classic academic overachievers, the kind that drive mere mortals crazy. And she is now a star sophomore libero on the Kansas volleyball team, helping the 16th-seeded Jayhawks to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
But here’s something that Wait isn’t, at least on a college volleyball court: She’s not very tall.
“I’m too little,” says Wait, who stands 5 feet 8, “and that’s just how life is.”
Wait smiles as she says this, but it helps explain how she arrived at this point, preparing to face Arkansas-Little Rock in the opening round at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.
When Wait was at Gardner-Edgerton she excelled as an all-around standout, serving as the primary outsider hitter for the Trailblazers and regularly overpowering bigger opponents at the net. But when she was a sophomore or junior, she realized she had basically stopped growing. So her options were pretty clear: Play college volleyball at a smaller school, where she could continue her versatile style, or head to Kansas and remake her game.
Wait chose Kansas, where the coaches offered her a preferred walk-on spot and the promise of some scholarship money down the road.
“When you’re little,” Wait explains, “it’s a lot harder to get scholarships because you have to have size. There’s no questions about that.”
At Kansas, Wait played sparingly as a freshman, learning the finer points of the libero position, a defensive-minded role that is barred from attacking the net. Now a sophomore, Wait finished second in the Big 12 with 534 digs and helped the Jayhawks reload with seven freshmen on the roster.
“She can be one of the best at her position in the country,” Bechard says. “She’s got the right mindset; she’s just as competitive as can be.”
Wait’s evolution also keyed Jayhawks’ resurgence after the loss of three All-Big 12 standouts from last year’s Sweet 16 team, All-American middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc, All-Big 12 setter Erin McNorton, and standout libero Brianne Riley. Kansas, 22-8, finished tied for second in the Big 12 for the second straight year, and earned one of 16 national seeds in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers was an All-Big 12 selection, while freshman setter Ainise Havili led the conference with 1,278 assists.
If the Jayhawks can defeat Arkansas-Little Rock on Friday, they will face the winner of Creighton and Oregon State on Saturday, with a second straight Sweet 16 berth on the line.
For Wait — and for everybody — the vibe is positive.
“I just think the returners had an expectation,” Bechard says, “and that was passed along to the newcomers. Here’s how we’ve been doing it, and this is what we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going backwards.”
What: First- and second-round matches
Where: Kansas Expocentre, Topeka
Schedule: Creighton vs. Oregon State, 4 p.m. Friday; KU vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, 6:30 p.m. Friday; first-round winners, 6:30 p.m. Saturday.