AUSTIN, Texas — After a week of playing with house money and riding the wave, reality crashed in for Wichita State’s volleyball team.
Sixth-seeded Southern Cal overpowered WSU 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-17) in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in the Austin Regional at Gregory Gymnasium. The Trojans (30-5) controlled most of the match with their height, power and serving. After the first set, the Shockers (24-10) never looked like a threat.
That is one reality. The other reality is more important — WSU completed a superb season by striding into post-season history. Friday’s loss didn’t diminish the accomplishment of advancing past the NCAA’s first weekend for the first time in seven appearances.
“I can honestly say I have never had as much fun playing volleyball,” senior outside hitter Emily Adney said. “It’s great to be able to end on a high, even though we did lose. The past few weeks have been amazing.”
WSU coach Chris Lamb spent the run-up to Friday luxuriating in his team’s underdog status and his attitude paid off with a team that looked loose and confident early in the match. The Shockers led 9-7 and 11-10 with middles Ashley Andrade and Elizabeth Field doing a lot of the damage.
Southern Cal broke away to lead 18-13 before the Shockers rallied, helped by Trojan errors. A kill by Andrade and her ace cut the lead to 19-18 and forced a timeout by the Trojans. Another Southern Cal attack error tied the match.
“When you’re playing a program like them, you’re just trying to keep some numbers down,” Lamb said. “I just wanted to see them get rattled a little bit. I saw moments where I thought the energy was shifting and some plays were going our way and I saw those guys getting on each other a little bit. In the role that we’re in, you kind of need that to happen.”
The Trojans, who start two freshmen and a sophomore, quickly ended those hopes in the first set. Kills by Alicia Ogoms and Sara Shaw and an attack error by WSU’s Sam Sanders gave the Trojans a 22-19 lead. They scored two more after a WSU timeout on their way to winning the first set.
With that opportunity lost, the Shockers went quietly in the second set, falling behind 9-4 and never leading. They stayed close in the third set, trailing 11-9, before Southern Cal finished them off with a 6-1 run.
The Trojans hit .291 for the match, relying on attacks from the pins that the Shockers couldn’t stop. Freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio recorded 13 kills and hit .323. Senior right Katie Fuller added 11 kills and hit .273.
WSU rarely faced that level of height and athletic ability and can’t duplicate those assets in practice.
“They hit to where we were supposed to be,” WSU libero Jackie Church said. “They’re just great hitters, going over the blocks.”
Trojans coach Mick Haley pointed to his defense and serving. He wanted to cool off Andrade, a middle with fantastic numbers in the two NCAA matches, and keep Shocker setter Chelsey Feekin out of the offense. Andrade finished with four kills. Feekin had two.
“The setter’s been, really, the thing that the whole offense runs through,” Haley said. “We were able to keep her under control. You’re never going to stop her, because she is really quite good and distributes the ball extremely well.”
Southern Cal slowed WSU’s offense with a series of tough serves that sent passers scrambling and disrupted their timing. They kept Feekin away from the net, where she is such an offensive threat that she led the nation in attack percentage much of the season.
“They did serve deep and hard, and it was hard for our passers,” Feekin said. “I just couldn’t get as involved as I would have wanted to be.”
Outside hitter Ashlyn Driskill led WSU with seven kills and hit .263. Field added six.
Lamb departed from the interview session, taking time to grab the placard with his name on it. After a season like this one, every souvenir means something.
“We played some of the best volleyball we’ve ever played around here,” he said. “We put this last two, three-week ride together that’s just been amazing. I’m just sad that we’re done.”