Wichita State volleyball feels no fear of stranger danger. Playing unfamiliar opponents in the NCAA Tournament, so far, is a strategic and psychological advantage for the Shockers.
WSU is the underdog remaining in the Sweet 16, the team bigger names will look upon as prelude to playing the next day. The Shockers (24-9) meet No. 6 Southern California (29-5) on Friday in the Austin Regional. They advanced with wins over Arkansas and Kansas, teams who failed to adjust to WSU’s adjustments and ceded control of the match.
Teams who don’t take the Shockers seriously and aren’t prepared for their variety of offenses and defenses are in danger.
“We play different,” coach Chris Lamb said. “We show up with all kind of different costumes on. You can’t just watch us on tape and think that’s what’s going to show up.”
WSU fell behind in both matches last weekend at Allen Fieldhouse, 0-2 to Arkansas and 0-1 to 11th-seeded Kansas. The Shockers won the next three sets in both.
Neither the Razorbacks nor the Jayhawks could defend WSU’s middle blockers. Ashley Andrade recorded 23 kills — most in an NCAA match by a Shocker — with an attack percentage of . 564 (.300 is considered good) against Arkansas. Elizabeth Field added 14 kills.
Against Kansas, Andrade had 18 kills with a .438 attack percentage; Field 13 and .619. Andrade earned national player of the week award from Collegiate Volleyball Update after averaging 4.56 kills in the two matches.
Missouri Valley Conference opponents are used to WSU’s quick attacks in the middle. It was liberating to play against schools unprepared. Many high-profile schools with an athletic edge build their offense on setting high balls to their left and right-side attackers and don’t use their middles in the way WSU does.
“They’re not sure how to handle it,” WSU right-side Emily Adney said. “Watching Ashley hit against Arkansas was unreal. They had no idea what was going on. It felt so easy once Ashley started going off. Then it opens up so many doors for us.”
WSU embraces the role of newcomer to this stage of the tournament. It lacks the reputation and name recognition of a Southern Cal or a Nebraska. That didn’t matter against Arkansas and Kansas.
“It’s fun when we get to play new people,” Andrade said. “It was a lot of fun being able to go out there and show people who we are. One of the strengths we have as a team is going out and showing people up.”
Playing USC represents a step up from last weekend. The Trojans are making a 29th NCAA appearance and a ninth regional in 12 seasons. They finished third in the Pac-12 behind second-seeded Stanford and fifth-seeded Oregon, both of whom are also alive.
“We’re here to win,” WSU libero Jackie Church said. “Yes, it’s awesome. People come up and congratulate you, but we do have business to take care of.”
After WSU’s win over Kansas, Trojans coach Mick Haley texted Lamb, “Way to get off to a nice start.”
“Only a program like SC could consider the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the start of their season,” Lamb said. “You have to be that kind of program to think of that first weekend as a warmup. That’s not how we think, obviously.”
Twelve of the 16 remaining schools are national seeds. Fourteen of the teams are from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pacific-12. WSU is the biggest surprise still in the gym.
“There’s only one team in the country riding the wave we’re riding,” Lamb said. “All the other dreamers of the Sweet 16, they’re no longer on our wave. We’re the only team that has this feeling. I think that’s pretty cool.”