After helping guide the Kansas volleyball team to back-to-back NCAA Tournament trips as the team’s primary libero, Kennedy Farris was faced with a tough decision entering the 2023 season.
Give up the game she loves and commit fully to finishing her academics or put off nursing school another year so she could continue to keep playing volleyball.
Luckily for the super-senior from nearby Lansing High School, KU coach Ray Bechard was open to an idea that would allow her to do both.
After completing her undergraduate requirements for a degree in community health, with a minor in psychology, last spring, Farris started nursing school at KU this fall.
The demands of that program coupled with the requirements of being a college athlete overlapped, leaving Farris to search for a solution.
She found one through a conversation with Bechard about being with the team when she could and putting nursing school first the rest of the time.
I wasn’t ready to give volleyball up quite yet, but also I wasn’t ready to put my life on hold for another year.” — Kennedy Farris
“We just said whatever you need academically,” Bechard told R1S1 Sports. “That’s a pretty serious undertaking and let’s see how it works out and we’d love to have you around as much as possible.”
Farris loved the sound of that and has continued to suit up and practice with her teammates as much as possible this fall.
“I’m kind of back and forth most days,” she told R1S1. “I really just care about this program and I care about these girls and just getting to be a part of it and hold a different role, like more in leadership, I’ve started trying to be more of a mentor and help coach when I can. It’s a lot, but it’s one semester, and I thought that they could benefit from me staying and I could benefit also.”
In choosing to commit to that plan of attack, Farris knew she would be giving up a lot of her playing time. But, as a veteran on a team with some promising young liberos, her mindset already had shifted from key piece of the puzzle to meaningful mentor, so the transition has not been all that difficult.
“I was confident in who we have and what they’re doing, but I still get to be a part of it, which is just an awesome situation for me,” Farris said. “It was a hard decision in that I wasn’t ready to give volleyball up quite yet, but also I wasn’t ready to put my life on hold for another year.”
Added Bechard: “It’s just a very unique situation for a kid to try to mentor kids and help kids and contribute to our culture when she knows her playing time is going to be diminished to next to none because of her academic pursuits. But she likes people, she likes the sport and she wanted to try to do both. We were all for it.”
Although her schedule differs from week to week, Bechard has been open to a flexible system of planning. He said Farris sends him or his assistant coaches a text message when she knows what days she’ll be able to make it to practice or games and the two sides stick pretty closely to that on a weekly basis.
One area that caught Farris a little by surprise was how supportive and welcoming her teammates were about the unusual schedule.
“Every time I’m gone for a little bit and come back, everyone makes me feel so welcome. I think my biggest fear was just kind of feeling like an outsider, but they’ve made me feel way different than I expected.”
With true freshman Raegan Burns in the middle of an outstanding first season, the Jayhawks have been in good hands at the key defensive position. But Bechard said not having Farris’ experience and vocal approach on the court has taken some getting used to.
“The communication level that Kennedy’s given us the last couple of years was something we kind of took for granted,” he said. “It was pretty special. There’s so much to that position. You’re basically captaining the defense out there and she did it at a high level and wore it well with everything that goes into that.”
Most days, Farris can hardly believe that she’s the veteran now. She said it seems like just yesterday that she came into the program she always dreamed of playing for, hoping to live up to the lofty standard for the position set by KU greats Bri Riley and Cassie Wait before her.
But she also loves the way the end is going and is thankful that she gets one more season to soak it all in while moving forward with her life after volleyball at the same time.
“Time goes so fast,” she said. “And it is weird that it’s the end, but I also have a lot to look forward to.”
When she completes the four-year nursing program that, at times, can be as competitive as a road match in the Big 12 Conference, Farris wants to start working as an ER nurse and eventually take her job on the road.
“My sister’s a traveling nurse and we kind of have a goal to travel together,” she said.
Until then, though, whether she’s in uniform or just getting back to the gym, she has her mind fixed on one thing and one thing only.
“Whatever’s best for the team is what I’m here for,” she said.
The 16th-ranked Jayhawks (12-4 overall, 3-3 Big 12) will return to the court at 1 p.m. Saturday, when Oklahoma comes to town for their next Big 12 battle.
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