When Oklahoma volleyball coach Santiago Restrepo figured he would start freshmen, he knew he needed to change his schedule. Instead of backing off, however, he wanted to find tough competition.
“We want the challenge,” he said. “That’s how it’s going to be in the conference.”
That philosophy explains the Oklahoma-Wichita State rivalry, which continues at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Norman. Both coaches like to play a muscular schedule and the Sooners don’t fear the risk of losing to a team from the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Sooners and Shockers meet for the fifth straight season and they are annual spring opponents, as well. WSU has won four of the past five meetings. The lone win for the Sooners (13-4) came in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s just a great rivalry,” Restrepo said. “There is a lot of bragging rights between the two teams.”
The match is a key power rankings builder for the Shockers (10-5), WSU is No. 54 in the RPI released by the NCAA. OU is No. 14. The Sooners also played at Colorado State and Arkansas and met Nebraska and Kentucky in a tournament in Nebraska.
“I don’t know what playing soft does for you,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “His philosophy is part of why we get to be a part of it, because we’re a good opponent.”
The Shockers are 1-3 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI, owning a win over No. 41 Colorado State. Their position just outside the top 50 is a dangerous one for NCAA at-large consideration. There is time to improve, starting against the Sooners. WSU will also play top-50 teams Creighton and Northern Iowa at home.
“It’s close,” Lamb said. “Last year the lowest RPI to get in was No. 51.”
The rivalry will be in the hands of new setters this season. WSU junior Chelsey Feekin replaces four-year starter Mary Elizabeth Hooper. OU turns to freshman Julia Doyle. Feekin’s scoring ability — she is hitting .465 with 115 kills — makes different kind of threat than OU prepared for with Hooper.
“You never know when she is going to dump the ball, so that makes it difficult on blockers,” Restrepo said. “(Lamb) runs a pretty fast offense. He runs different plays and gives you a different look every single time.”
OU is one of the Big 12’s top blocking teams and Restrepo said the ability to get a lot of touches on balls keys his defense. His offense is balanced with five players averaging two-plus kills a set. Junior middle Sallie McLaurin is hitting .392, second in the Big 12, and leads the conference with an average of 1.70 blocks a set.
“She is a busy, experienced middle,” Lamb said. “She hits everything, so you never know what you’re going to get from her.”
Lamb is also impressed with OU’s balance on offense. Sophomore outside hitter Tara Dunn leads the Sooners with an average of 2.70 kills. Freshman Kierra Holst averages 2.05 and is hitting .290.
“I think it’s the most physical they’ve been on the left,” Lamb said. “He went out and got himself some big Texans that are big and physical. I known OU for a long time and they’ve always had good players on the left. Now it’s good and physical on the left.”