Rarely, but sometimes, a volleyball team can win by losing a point. Wichita State would agree after its 3-1 win over Illinois State in an often-frantic, always-emotional match that turned more on hustle and determination than strategy.
The Shockers remained in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a percentage-points lead over Northern Iowa. They dropped the first set 19-25 before rebounding to win 25-14, 25-19, 26-24 on senior night.
Outside hitter Katie Reilly summed up the tone of the evening during the second set, when she chased down a desperation dig that sailed past the service line. She dove and one-handed it with barely enough force to clear the net. Illinois State pounced on the free ball for a point.
No matter. The crowd cheered her hustle and after a first set in which the Shockers played with little zest, they needed that example.
“There were some funny looking faces on our team in the first set,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “I haven't been angry at this team all year. I was angry after game one. ‘You’re not competing. We had nothing going on.’”
Blame senior night, an annual hazard with its pregame ceremony, flowers, parents and highlight video. Try as they might, it’s hard for the seniors to shake off four or five seasons of memories and wipe away tears for that first set.
“The focus wasn’t there,” senior Sam Sanders said. “I wasn’t completely into it, and the team didn’t seem like it, either.”
The Shockers, given a gift of first place on Friday when Northern Iowa lost to Southern Illinois, regrouped for the second. While they couldn’t finish off the point that Reilly hustled for, they did win a long rally to go up 16-8.
“I didn’t think it was going to go over, but it did, and it was really cool,” Reilly said. “And I wish we would have won the point, but it’s OK, because everyone was showing more hustle that game. When we give a little more, I think we’re more focused.”
That showed most of the rest of the match. The Shockers didn’t commit an attack error in the second set. Their defense, after allowing the Redbirds to hit .387 in the first set, kept them under .150 the rest of the way. After middle LeighAnn Hranka had six kills in the first set, WSU held her to four the rest of the way.
“It’s important that your opponent doesn’t see you quit,” Lamb said.
Reilly led WSU with 11 kills. Ashley Andrade and Sanders both added nine. Senior Elizabeth Field had six kills. Ashley Rosch led the Redbirds (16-10, 9-5) with 12 kills. Illinois State lost for the sixth time in eight matches and fell from third to fifth place in the Valley.
The Shockers survived a frantic end to the fourth set, winning 26-24 on a kill by senior setter Chelsey Feekin and senior middle Ashley’s Andrade redirection of an overpass.
The Redbirds controlled the first set with an offensive attack that kept the Shockers off course. Illinois State led 8-3 and 15-7, forcing Lamb to burn both his timeouts. The Shockers cut the lead to 18-14 on a kill by Sanders. The Redbirds responded with a 4-1 run, capped by Stacey Niao’s ace to regain control.
The energy switched quickly in the second set. Tied 5-all, the Shockers got rolling with Andrade doing much of the damage. Her kill made it 7-5. Her solo block on Brooklyn Hlafka seemed to ignite the team and Illinois State called timeout. Andrade’s kill, an ace by Feekin and another Andrade kill gave WSU an 11-5 lead.
Reilly rode that wave into the final points of the set, giving WSU a 21-13 lead with a kill and following with two aces for a 23-13 lead.
In third set, WSU wore down the Redbirds with pin players Driskill and Sanders each recording three kills. The Shockers led 14-12 before pulling away to lead 19-14. Sanders ended the set with a back-row attack.
Reilly also came up big in the fourth set, helping the Shockers rally from a 13-11 deficit. She scored three straight kills, powering through a block and bouncing off two others, to give WSU a 14-13 lead. The Redbirds led 21-20 before two attack errors handed the lead back to WSU. The Shockers failed to take the set up 24-22 and 24-23. But after a timeout, Feekin and Andrade ended the match.