Wichita State knows Northern Iowa runs a fast offense. Knowing that, preparing for it and stopping it are different things.
Northern Iowa swept WSU (25-23, 25-19, 25-19) on Friday at Koch Arena, knocking the Shockers back significantly in the Missouri Valley Conference race. The Panthers hit .364, best by a WSU opponent this season, with their speed and precision. They transitioned from defense to offense so quickly that they rarely gave the Shockers time to organize, dooming them to step-short status most of the match.
“That’s one big thing we worked on all week, but it’s just so fast when you’re out there,” WSU right-side Sam Sanders said. “They’re the best team at it in the Valley. It’s fast.”
The Shockers (16-6, 9-3 MVC) invested a lot in hopes of ending a nine-match losing streak to UNI — a season-high crowd of 5,812 showed up, as did the pep band. An unusual pregame video showed Shockers talking about playing the Panthers (20-6, 11-1), which certainly got the attention of the UNI bench. The loss puts WSU two matches behind UNI and Creighton. Coach Chris Lamb told the team to forget about it and focus on Saturday’s match against Bradley. Losing to UNI doesn’t seriously damage WSU’s NCAA at-large resume; losing to Bradley would.
“You need to get over it quickly,” he said. “In the big picture, Northern Iowa is not one of the land-mines on our schedule. It’s a tough loss from a conference perspective. For what our ultimate goal is, this isn’t a killer.”
WSU tried to take away UNI’s quick sets to its middles. UNI setter Molly Turk happily fed her outside hitters and they found plenty of open lanes.
“We definitely pride ourselves in our quick offense,” UNI outside hitter Amy Braun said. “We felt fresh and we played hard.”
Macy Ubben recorded 16 kills. Braun hit .375 with 11 kills. Right-side Megan Lehman hit .364 with four kills.
“They’re all in the .300s — that’s tough to deal with,” Lamb said. “We tried to take away an obvious Northern Iowa strength, but they were certainly quick to counter the other way. Everyone of their attackers was in the .300s. That might be a record for them.”
WSU’s offense failed to keep up. The Panthers erased outside hitter Emily Adney with their blockers, holding her to three kills. Middle Ashley Andrade didn’t record a kill until the third set and finished with three on nine swings. Sam Sanders (12 kills and a .423 attack percentage) carried the offense, with help from Ashlyn Driskill (five kills) and middle Elizabeth Field (seven kills).
“They weren’t going to let our senior outside hitter beat them,” Lamb said. “I don’t think we gave the ball enough to our middles, and they were asking for it. The Shockers need to get some more balance to compete with a team like Northern Iowa.”
UNI swept WSU in Koch Arena for the second straight season to extend its winning streak over the Shockers to 10 matches.