When Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb said that “We really needed this,” after WSU’s five-set win over Louisville on Tuesday night, he was being redundant.
Anyone who watched the fifth set of WSU’s win could see how important it was for the Shockers to rebound against good competition after a difficult loss at Illinois State on Friday.
WSU, which won with scores of 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 22-25, 15-10, had more left physically and emotionally in the final set. All of the Shockers’ points came from seven blocks and eight kills, and a 4-0 start to the fifth answered any questions about whether they could collectively regroup after losing an intense fourth set.
More than the key element of emotion, though, WSU relied upon adjustments defensively. Louisville’s hitting percentage plummeted after the Cardinals hit .400 in the first set, more due to WSU’s changes than a Louisville decline.
“We weren’t very tough last weekend,” Lamb said. “I thought getting beat 25-18 (in a set) at Illinois State was something I wouldn’t ever see from this team, but I saw it.… Tonight, to me, was the recovery. Tonight was the match that showed me we bounced back, and we needed to.
“In some sort of corny way, I’m glad we had to fight for it. Obviously I would have taken it any way, but (it was better seeing) this team fighting to win this match, this team evolving.”
The Shockers seemed overmatched early against an opponent that spent all but two weeks of last season nationally ranked. The Cardinals turned a 10-10 first-set tie into a 21-13 lead, eventually winning the set by notching 14 kills with two errors.
That was the last time Louisville would hit that well and the last time WSU would let it happen. The Shockers orchestrated a vast back-row improvement and Louisville failed to adjust. The Cardinals appeared to have given WSU its best shot in the first set, and once the Shockers figured out their tendencies, Louisville didn’t have an answer.
Louisville’s hitting percentage decreased in every set, reaching rock bottom at minus-.120 in the fifth. Its .400 first-set average was cut by more than half to .191 for the match. Five WSU players contributed at least nine digs, led by Katie Reilly’s 17.
“We have a lot of new people in the back row, and I haven’t been bragging about adjustments and great back-row play,” Lamb said about praise his team received from Louisville coach Anne Kordes. “I’ll sure take that compliment.”
The timing for WSU’s defensive renaissance was perfect because it coincided with a scoring surge. The Shockers were timid in the first set, allowing Louisville to serve as the aggressors, but those roles essentially changed in the second and third sets.
Sam Sanders led those efforts, especially in the third set when she delivered six of her match-high 16 kills. Sanders helped lead the charge in the fifth with three block assists, matching the totals of teammates Elizabeth Field, Ashley Andrade and Chelsey Feekin.
Sanders had a kill and two block assists as part of WSU’s 4-0 start to the fifth.
“Last weekend, Elizabeth and I struggled a lot behind the setter,” Sanders said. “We had a great practice and great individual work. I just went for it — I didn’t hesitate. We worked on approaches and that really helped.”
The Shockers’ second- and third-set wins nearly went for naught as they lost a fourth set that included 10 ties, including as late as 22-22. But Louisville couldn’t sustain its energy level and the Shockers had more left in their legs and in their minds.
“We came out and weren’t tough,” Sanders said. “We were kind of going with the flow of things. Then the team came together and said we need to play more aggressive. When everyone is fired up, that makes every pass, every set, every hit that much better.”