AUSTIN — College basketball fans can reminisce about a long list of Cinderella stories in the NCAA Tournament, teams such as Hampton, Richmond, Gonzaga, George Mason and Butler who shook up the power establishment.
Volleyball fans can fondly remember Texas-Arlington in 1989. The Mavericks defeated North Carolina, LSU and Texas before losing to Long Beach State in the national semifinals.
The NCAA volleyball tournament, started in 1981, is largely devoid of big upsets and shocking runs deep into the bracket. While last season’s upset of No. 2-seeded Nebraska in the second round by Kansas State demonstrates some level of parity grown since the early years, the second and third weekends of the tournament remain largely in the hands of select schools from the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC.
So the appearance of Wichita State in the Sweet 16 heartens some observers. Perhaps WSU’s emergence is a sign of change coming to the tournament. Southern California coach Mick Haley thinks he sees an evolution in the sport with imaginative coaches tweaking the game in ways that help the lower-profile schools.
This year, 12 of the 16 seeded schools advanced to the Sweet 16. WSU’s two wins and recent Sweet 16 appearances by Colorado State and Western Michigan remain rare forays against the West Coast and Big Ten dominance of the bracket.
“We’d love to have the excitement of basketball,” Haley said. “We’ve always wanted a tournament where anybody that got in could win.”
NCAA volleyball is a long way from that. WSU, which lost 3-0 to USC on Friday in the Austin Regional, can compete with all but the elite with its mixture of talent and coaching. It is 6-7 in seven NCAAs (5-2 in the first round) with wins over schools such as Nevada, Rice, Arkansas and Kansas. It is 0-4 against elites Nebraska, Texas and USC without winning a set.
‘You have to keep growing or the big schools will continue to get the talent and you won’t be able to compete,” Haley said. “The good coaches out there are starting to create different ways to play the game. Now we’re seeing three or four or five styles. You’re seeing 6-2s, you’re seeing 5-1s, you’re seeing smaller middles who are quicker. You’re seeing fast on the outside.”
In his position, Lamb can’t afford not to try new approaches.
“A lot of people are almost afraid to try things differently in volleyball and you worry that the players won’t react well,” he said. “Just because something doesn’t work good the first time you do it, doesn’t mean you don’t fight through some of this stuff.”
Time off with dad — After each season, Lamb spends the holidays with his father in Henderson, Nev. Paul Lamb, 79, is in poor health and suffers from Alzheimer’s.
If the hustle of preparation and travel for the NCAAs kept him from savoring the tournament, Chris Lamb knows he will get a chance to reminisce with his father. He can’t wait for that opportunity to relive the wins over Arkansas and Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
“He’s going to be asking the same question over and over again, because his memory is gone,” Chris Lamb said. “He’s going to ask me 45 times in 20 minutes, ‘How was that match?’ And I’ll love answering it over and over and over again.”
MVC history — Missouri Valley Conference volleyball continues to earn respect with its NCAA performances. This season advanced the Valley’s cause.
Creighton, WSU and Northern Iowa all won first-round matches, the first time every MVC school won a match. The Valley’s four NCAA wins are the most in its history.
“That conference plays volleyball to 3, 4,000 people nightly,” Haley said. “Those coaches just try to kill each other, they work so hard at winning in that conference.”
The MVC is set up nicely for next season. Of the 19 players who earned first- or second-team All-MVC honors, 12 will return for the 2013 season. MVC champion Creighton returns two of its three All-MVC performers. WSU loses two seniors (outside hitter Emily Adney and libero Jackie Church) and returns All-MVC setter Chelsey Feekin and second-team pick Elizabeth Field, a middle.
Downtown sales — Wichita State’s men’s basketball team is nearing its annual game at Intrust Bank Arena. With 13 days remaining, ticket sales have yet to match the team’s fast start. There is plenty of time for sales to pick up.
As of Friday, WSU had sold 4,250 tickets for the Dec. 22 game against Southern Mississippi. Last season’s game against UAB drew 11,204. The 2010 game against Tulsa drew 14,112 with the edge of being part of the season-ticket package.
WSU will receive a guarantee of $85,000 from the promoter for the game. It can earn more money by reaching ticket levels. For example, selling 7,500 will earn WSU an extra $10,000. Selling 14,000 will earn WSU $60,000.