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Raegan Burns’ next big challenge

As 17th-ranked Jayhawks aim to reach lofty goals, freshman libero eyes role as vocal leader

3 min read
Kansas freshman Raegan Burns (center) laughs with teammates at a comment made by head coach Ray Bechard during a recent KU practice. [Chance Parker photo]

Two days after earning Big 12 Rookie of the Week in her first week of Big 12 play, Raegan Burns shrugged over Zoom.

“Volleyball is a team sport,” she explained. The award was simply a reflection of her team’s success.

Fourteen games into her freshman season, Burns has already earned a crucial role with the  Jayhawks, taking on the libero position, and rewarding her coaches’ trust with performances on the court. Burns recently was ranked ninth nationally among liberos and defensive specialists in receptions, according to volleyball analytics site, and she earned Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors last week.

Yet, despite all that she has delivered, the Lafayette, Indiana native wasn’t yet willing to boast or even take full credit for her early season performance. Burns’ success, she said, is a testament to her team, and also “a picture of who's supported me along the way.”

Jayhawks coach Ray Bechard is a bit less modest about Burns’ contributions.

“There isn't a match that has gone by where we said, ‘Wow, Burns is hurting us,'" Bechard told R1S1 Sports. "It's always been ‘Burns is helping us achieve the goals we want.’ So that's noteworthy with a freshman in the libero position, because there's a lot of demands on that position.”

While Burns is still focused on learning her teammates’ tendencies and how they like their passes, she already has managed to produce at least 10 digs in 12 of the Jayhawks' 14 matches, including a career-best twenty eight in a recent loss to Texas Tech.

KU libero Raegan Burns high-fives a teammate during a recent KU practice. [Chance Parker photo]

As Burns’ ranking among all liberos and defensive specialists might indicate, Bechard and the KU coaching staff feel Burns’ reception is “in a really good place right now” and her secondary setting is “as good as we’ve had here in a long time.” But they think that she’s just scratching the surface.

“We felt like she could get in the mix right away,” Bechard said. “We're excited for her, but we kind of knew she could perform at this level.”

The next step, he said, will be for Burns to put a bit of her modesty and on-court calmness to the side and assert herself as the team’s defensive captain.

A standout libero growing up in Lafayette, Burns said she played with the same teammates for most of her life — teammates who also happened to be future Division I players. At McCutcheon High School, Burns and her teammates won four conference titles, two regional titles, one semi-state title and a state championship.

And while the speed of the college game hasn’t shocked her, being a defensive captain for a college team with lofty goals and accomplished veterans has been a challenge.

“The outward aspect of — even though I’m a freshman — trying to [have a] leadership voice and establishing what we should be expecting from each other, calling out things for my hitters or what I see on the other side has been more of a jump,” she said.

KU libero Raegan Burns (3) listens to some instructions from head coach Ray Bechard during a recent match. [Chance Parker photo]

As she has become more settled within the team, Burns’ teammates have pushed her to be more outspoken as the captain of the defense.

Veterans like Camryn Turner, London Davis, and Kennedy Farris — who wore the libero jersey last year — have pushed Burns to expand her role as a leader, reminding her that she’s in Lawrence for a reason. “Say what you want to say, and we'll follow,” they've all told her.

For Bechard, that’s exactly the attitude he thinks his team needs to fight for NCAA glory.

Burns' diminutive stature, at 5-foot-5, and understated demeanor shouldn’t fool you, he said. They don’t mirror the “little bulldog” that she is.

“She's a high level competitor," Bechard said. "And she'll create opportunities for us with the way that she gives us effort each and every day.”

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