AUSTIN — Calling Southern Cal’s style of volleyball “simple” isn’t a knock. It explains the Trojans are so gifted that they can play their way and not worry too much about the generally less-talented team across the net.
“The more talented you are, the simpler you get to play,” Wichita State coach Chris Lamb said. “A lot of high balls. They’re not too aggressive with trying to run a fast offense. They don’t need to and most of the top teams in the world don’t. A lot of talent everywhere.”
The sixth-seeded Trojans swept both opponents last weekend, hitting .518 in a first-round win over Fairfield and .398 in a second-round win over Saint Mary’s. Outside hitter Samantha Bricio, the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year, averages 4.10 kills a set with a .242 attack percentage. Middle Alexis Olgard (6-foot-5) is hitting .404. Middle Alicia Ogams (6-4) is hitting .331. Natalie Hagglund is a the two-time Pac-12 Libero of the Year and earned AVCA All-America honors last season.
“They’re big and physical,” said Arizona coach Dave Rubio, who lost twice to the Trojans. “Their middles are huge. Chris is going to have to design a system where USC feels very uncomfortable.”
WSU is used to facing a height disadvantage and surviving on its fast offense and defensive adjustments. It took Sweet 16 team BYU and Tennessee to five sets before losing. It defeated Colorado State and Oklahoma. It rallied to beat Arkansas and No. 11 Kansas last weekend.
“We’ve been against physical teams,” WSU libero Jackie Church said. “We can’t control their size, but we can control what we do on our side of the net, make sure we have good defense and we’re organized.”
WSU’s middles dominated in NCAA matches against Arkansas and Kansas. Ashley Andrade totaled 41 kills and a .507 attack percentage in the nine sets. Elizabeth Field totaled 27 kills and hit .400.
“If they can pass the ball, (Andrade) is lighting it up,” USC coach Mick Haley said. “That’s phenomenal what she’s doing, she’s just bouncing balls. But it all goes through their setter (Chelsey Feekin). You have to treat her as an attacker because if you give her the opportunity, she will try to score. So you don’t get the advantage of trying to overload on their two-hitter system.”
Back home — WSU junior right-side hitter Sam Sanders is swinging hard in practice, which Lamb hopes is a good sign. She is recovering from a shoulder injury and her playing time has been spotty over the past month.
WSU started a resurgence by winning two games in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. It continued last weekend, all without typical contributions from Sanders, who ranks second on the team with an average of 2.33 kills a set. When Lamb starts to think his team is rolling, he reminds himself the addition of a healthy Sanders could make things even better.
“If the team that (I) watched for the last two weeks gets Sam back this weekend, that will be the best team we’ve had all year,” he said. “That would sure be nice if all that could happen here in Austin.”
Sanders earned MVP honors at SMU’s tournament in Dallas in September, an omen is Lamb is eager to embrace. She is from Rhome, Texas, 213 miles from Austin.
“The best Sam ever played was at home in Texas,” Lamb said. “Maybe, just maybe, there’s some magic in the air and Sam can put this thing together and we’ll have our most experienced team and our most talented team on the floor at the same time.”
Perks of winning — WSU assistant coach R.J. Abella is a loyal listener to the Bobby Bones Show, a nationally syndicated morning radio program based in Austin. When the Shockers advanced, Abella got to work landing a guest spot for the Shockers.
Abella took Church, Feekin, Emily Adney and assistant coach Jeff Sanders with him. They introduced themselves on air and took a picture with the hosts.
“We’ve got some girls who are pretty big fans,” Church said. “R.J. is probably the biggest fan. Somehow we got on there. That was fun this morning to see people we hear all the time.”
WSU’s volleyball alumni sent the Shockers off to Austin with memory books filled with pictures and messages to the players. Former Shockers such as Katie (Niggemeyer) Bradley, Kelly Broussard, Mary Elizabeth Hooper and Lindsey Eckendrode are among the people who helped with that project.
More honors — Feekin and Adney were named to the AVCA’s All-Central Region team. Adney, a senior, earned honorable mention in 2010 and 2011. They are the first Shockers to make the first team since Emily Stockman in 2009.
Texas middle Khat Bell, outside hitters Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster and right-side Sha’Dare McNeal also made the team.
Worth noting — Friday’s match is available on ESPN3.com, ESPN’s internet-only network. Saturday’s regional final will be shown on ESPNU, Ch. 244.… Texas swept Florida in August in a tournament at Penn State.… Texas is 94-4 at Gregory Gymnasium since 2007.