Wichita State’s volleyball team lost its ninth straight match to Northern Iowa in late September. Since then, the Shockers told themselves they remained in control of their destiny because of the schedule.
Friday, WSU can prove that theory correct against Northern Iowa, which leads Creighton by percentage points atop the Missouri Valley Conference. The Shockers are close behind and face both teams at home. Ending the losing streak to UNI is the first job and it comes with significant mental and physical obstacles. Only one Shocker — senior Jackie Church — knows what a win over UNI looks like and she was a redshirt freshman in 2008.
“Definitely, they are mentally difficult,” junior middle blocker Elizabeth Field said. “This is a big game, and it matters more than just a ‘W’ or a loss. It has to do with our mental game, for taking away a win, and what it might to do them if they get that loss.”
A win keeps WSU (16-5, 9-2 MVC) in the conference race and improves its NCAA at-large resume. A loss makes it hard to see the Shockers as a conference contender and likely moves UNI (19-6, 10-1) ahead of the Shockers in the NCAA selection committee’s eyes. That’s a lot at stake and the WSU marketing department is trying to pitch in by pushing fans to break WSU’s attendance record of 6,122.
“We could use every fan in the city to come out and help us get over the top,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said.
WSU is 6-0 since losing to Northern Iowa. At Cedar Falls, it won the first set 28-26 before fading badly and losing the next three 11-25, 18-25, 16-25.
“I took a lot of notes after that match,” Lamb said. “Once they got rolling, it was pretty obvious they were capable of playing faster than we were and my team wasn’t able to hold on to a scouting report. We kept barking during timeouts ‘You’re supposed to do his, you’re supposed to do that.’ ”
Lamb’s look at statistics tells him the Panthers are likely the Valley’s best team, even after they lost at Creighton.
“They’ve got a 100-percent gap in hitting percentage vs. their opponents,” he said. “There are so many ways you can look at it and say Northern is the best team. To beat them, you’ve got to be good at a lot of stuff. You’ve got to be prepared defensively. If someone is sitting at the top row of the bleachers and it looks like one team is running faster and farther to make plays, I hope they say that’s us. You need that against Northern Iowa. They’re great at it.”
The Shockers started their hot streak winning 3-1 at Oklahoma. They haven’t needed a fifth set in any of the six wins, four coming on the road. Six matches later, the Shockers are a more complete team. Freshman outside hitter Ashlyn Driskill and right-side Sam Sanders are contributing more. Kesley Banwart and Jordan Hinkle are passing and defending better in the back row.
“We’ve come a long way,” senior outside hitter Emily Adney said. “We’ve gone out there and been more aggressive about it, knowing that if something good happens we can’t take a breath. We have to push the whole game.”
Worth noting — WSU setter Chelsey Feekin was named MVC player and scholar-athlete of the week after averaging 2.3 kills, 10.8 assists and 2.5 digs in two wins last weekend. She recorded her second triple-double of the season against Evansville with 12 kills, 38 assists and 10 digs.…UNI held WSU to a .102 attack percentage in the first meeting. The Panthers hit .265 with Macy Ubben leading the way with 16 kills and a .359 kill percentage. Krista Degeest added 14 kills. Adney led WSU with 15, but had a .090 attack percentage. The Panthers out-dug WSU 99-66.…WSU plays Bradley on Saturday. It has won 19 straight against the Braves, including a 3-1 win earlier this season.