Patience in the process of organizing Wichita States volleyball team in a way that accentuates each players best attributes isnt coach Chris Lambs strongest asset.
Confidence that he can complete the process, however, is among Lambs strengths.
Thats why WSUs five-set loss (16-25, 25-18, 25-20, 18-25, 15-9) to former Missouri Valley Conference rival Creighton offered Lamb just as much encouragement as disappointment. The Shockers, now 11-3 with three losses against nationally-ranked teams, endured similar growing pains early last season before reaching the Sweet 16.
Lamb is still tinkering with combinations and floor spacing, and consecutive losses in the Shocker Classic, including Saturdays defeat against Hawaii, could lead the Shockers to make those corrections more quickly.
Weve definitely proven we can beat the teams were supposed to beat, were just not quite there yet, Lamb said. And Im OK with that. Well get there. We were that team last year.
Obviously I dont want to wait forever to fix some of these problems, but were going to work on it and were going to fix it.
Lamb is particularly concerned with fixing the defense, which will take minor adjustments since, as he says, We have no bad defensive numbers.
Sunday against the 23rd-ranked Bluejays, WSU had more digs and limited the Bluejays to four fewer kills, so in most statistics the Shockers defense was evenly matched. One difference, however, was Creightons blocking, which it used to grab momentum after WSU won the first set.
The Bluejays had four blocks in the second set and 14 overall, five more than WSU. Lamb attributed that to broken plays by the Shockers, but it appeared at times that Creightons height and timing were getting to WSU.
In that second set, WSU hit .081, with Ashley Andrades five kills and one error keeping the Shockers from a negative hitting percentage. Lamb said Creighton had the advantage in the back row, and the statistics proved that.
Creighton setter Michelle Sicner provided many dimensions beyond her 45 sets. Sicner often came to the net, producing seven block assists and six kills. Her back-row play allowed her to accumulate a team-high 14 digs.
Creighton defensive specialist Kate Elman had five assists, 13 digs, one kill and two service aces. WSU also had trouble containing front-line hitter Leah McNary, whose leaping ability carried her to a match-best 17 kills.
A couple times I was just not paying attention to the blocks sometimes and not seeing where defenders are, Andrade said. Its a huge part of what we do we dont just go up and hit and expect to get a kill. Theres a lot of things that go into our approaches and go into where were hitting the ball. You have to see everything thats going on.
Creightons blockers sometimes affected WSUs hitting, as the Shockers occasionally attempted spikes from farther behind the net than usual or tried to finesse balls softly over instead of relying on the power of Andrade and fellow hitter Ashlyn Driskill.
That power returned after sluggish second and third sets that put the Shockers behind 2-1. Creighton scored the first point and led 6-5 at one point, but WSU carried the advantage the rest of the way as Driskill and Andrade combined for eight kills and two blocks.
WSU stayed with Creighton for the first half of the 15-point final set, trailing 8-7 before the Bluejays tallied seven of the final nine points. Three of those came on blocks.
Were constantly making adjustments, and you ride the wave, Lamb said. Youre hoping that along the way you make a few more highlight-reel type plays than they do, because they change rallies. A few like there are a few more spectacular plays that were seeing on the other side than were seeing on our side defensively.