Wichita State’s volleyball players know there is one way to earn a party on Sunday. Win three matches this week in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and the athletic department can send invitations to watch the NCAA selection show.
“We’ve been talking about having a watch party instead of hiding in Lambo’s house,” WSU setter Chelsey Feekin said.
Third-seeded WSU (20-8) plays sixth-seeded Missouri State (16-14), the host school, Thursday. The Shockers enter the tournament with a power ranking (RPI) at No. 44, which is generally a solid position for an NCAA at-large spot. Nothing is guaranteed, so they much prefer to wrap up the Valley’s automatic bid in Saturday’s title game. Then they can skip watching the show in the protection of coach Chris Lamb’s house and invite fans to join them in public.
“It would be so much fun to go out and sit and watch the selection show and be relaxed about it,” senior Emily Adney said.
WSU hasn’t won the tournament since 2004. It faces a tough road this season, starting with the home team. A win pits WSU against second-seeded Northern Iowa, winners of 10 straight over the Shockers. No. 21 Creighton, the top seed, lurks on the other side of the bracket.
Lamb likes his non-conference schedule strength. WSU is 2-6 against the RPI top 50 and 6-1 vs. teams ranked 51-100. While great emphasis is put on the tournament, it is not the entire story.
“I also know there are teams out there that are going to have a great last week and the work they did prior wasn’t enough to get them there,” he said. “So it’s just this full body of work sort of thing and we need to go into this conference tournament with the intentions of winning a conference tournament championship.”
The Shockers swept Missouri State this season, winning 3-1 both times. WSU’s middle blockers shone in both. In the first meeting, Elizabeth Field totaled 10 kills with a .366 attack percentage. Ashley Andrade had 12 kills and a .455 attack percentage. In the rematch, Andrade had eight kills with Field matching her career high with 19.
“I’m sure they will be keyed in on them,” Feekin said.
The Shockers are three weeks into a lineup change that they debuted in the Nov. 9 match against MSU at Koch Arena. With right-side Sam Sanders out with a shoulder injury, Adney moved from left to right and freshman Katie Reilly moved into the left. She responded with 11 kills and a .458 attack percentage. Sanders missed three matches before playing sparingly last weekend.
“Sam was out and we had to retool this thing a little bit,” Lamb said. “People have to prepare for you differently. But there’s a reason why you weren’t like that in the first place. It’s probably not the way you play your best. So we’ve had to kind of learn how we can side out and score points standing in different places and doing different roles.”
The Shockers are 2-1 with that lineup, losing a heart-breaking five-setter to Creighton.
“We found some things that are working,” Feekin said. “I like having Emily on the right side. She’s gained a lot of confidence back there.”