By Kyle West
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Allison Mayfield moved into sixth all-time on Kansas volleyball's career kills list Sunday, something not even she could have dreamed of when she first arrived on the Lawrence campus as a freshman in 2008. Through hard work and the help of her coaches, Mayfield has etched her name multiple times in the KU record books and along the way pushed herself to not only be a statistical leader on the team, but a vocal one as well.
Mayfield joined the Jayhawk volleyball team in 2008 after a very successful four-year athletic career at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Kansas City, Kan., which was capped off by back-to-back state titles in volleyball. Mayfield earned an all-state first team accolades in both 2006 and 2007 and was named the 2007 Kansas City Star Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year after claiming her fourth state championship in the high jump.
However, Mayfield struggled initially her freshman year, only appearing in 72 of the team's 110 sets.
"Freshman year was pretty tough," said Mayfield. "I think for anyone coming from high school into Division I volleyball, it's so much faster. You feel like you're thinking of a million things at once. Freshman year was definitely a transition year getting to know the systems we run, the releases and what all of the different sets are. I feel like everybody's freshman year is a little nerve-wracking, and it takes a while to get used to."
Kansas head coach Ray Bechard agreed that there is a natural learning curve that needs to take place for any freshman at the Division I level, regardless of the accolades she earned during her high school career.
"She came in as a freshman that we thought could have a solid career here," said Bechard. "As with any freshman, there were growing pains. There was competitive-confidence issues and the overall question of, ‘How do I make the jump from high school club volleyball to a conference and a program like this?' I think every freshman in the country wonders that at some point in time, but she stayed the course and has obviously been a mainstay within our program over the last three years. The switch came on when she realized she belonged here her sophomore year. I remember a match out at Colorado where she really dominated and carried us, so she had some matches like that as a sophomore where she performed at a really high level."
Mayfield attributes the increased success her sophomore year to the time she put in during the offseason following her freshman campaign and the KU coaching staff constantly pushing her to improve.
"The spring of freshman year was a big spring for me because (former Kansas assistant) Coach Ken Murczek was here, and he would make us get repetitions over and over again," said Mayfield, who started all but one match and played in every single set her sophomore season. "I didn't have those thoughts anymore my sophomore year. It was all instilled in my head, so I feel like it made me become more comfortable my when I was out on the floor. You're a veteran at that point, and you know what you're doing."
Mayfield led the team in 2009 with 3.65 kills per set, which still stands as the 10th-best single-season performance in program history. Aside from gaining confidence on the court, her teammates also noticed a change off the floor.
"Freshman year, she was a lot quieter," said Nicole Tate, a senior setter who has played all four years with Mayfield and is also in the record books with the fifth-most career assists in KU history. "Her sophomore year she told a joke that no one expected out of her. Now she's come out of her shell. It's always fun watching people grow in that aspect. Coming up from high school, the game is quicker and we were both just trying to stick with the team and get better. It's a big transition, but she's doing pretty well now. To be MVP of three different tournaments, I'm so proud to see her shine. It's a lot of fun playing with her."
Mayfield has tried to come out of her shell even more this year as one of the senior leaders on the team, not only registering career numbers in kills, digs and serve percentage, but also in being a vocal leader and helping the new crop of freshmen make the transition to Division I volleyball.
"Every time we huddle up, she's the one breaking the huddle," said Bechard. "I think there have been times where she has been introverted when she competes. She processes internally, and she's let that go a little bit. She's had an opportunity to help some younger players like Sara McClinton and Chelsea Albers in ways that she was helped as a young player as well."
Mayfield, who ranks second in the Big 12 with 4.15 kills per set this season, is finishing her collegiate career strong. Mayfield took home the MVP award in three of the Jayhawks' four pre-conference tournaments this year and led the team with 19 kills in its victory over then-No. 6 Minnesota, the highest-ranked opponent KU has beaten in program history. She is also on pace to post the second-most kills in KU history for a single season. Looking back on her career, Mayfield has created a lot of great memories, but she never would have believed it if someone had told her in 2008 that she would establish herself as a regular in the Kansas record books.
"That freshman year, I would have told them, ‘I think you have the wrong person,'" said Mayfield. "It's a reflection of a lot of hard work, a lot of hours in the gym and coaches helping with different shots. This is what you hope your career will be like. You gradually get better, and by the end of your career, you look back on what you've done and you're happy about it. I can't say there haven't been any rough times. There have been some rough patches, but that's when you grow. Overall, I've loved my teammates, and I've loved being with this current coaching staff and the coaches we've had in the past. I've loved my time here and wouldn't trade it for anything."