Wichita State faces another must-win volleyball match and that feeling is familiar. They are used to the win-or-go-home stakes from the past month of stressful matches.
“I like that there was some pressure on us at the end of the year,” coach Chris Lamb said. “I never saw us cave in. I didn’t see nerves. These guys are just going to play. They’re not going to worry about anything.”
WSU (28-6) meets No. 14 Kansas (23-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Allen Fieldhouse. Lamb likes his team’s mental state after winning seven consecutive matches, during a time which a loss likely derailed hopes of winning the Missouri Valley Conference title and securing an NCAA berth.
Its reward is a return match with the Jayhawks. A year ago, the Shockers overpowered Kansas for a 3-1 win and a trip to the Sweet 16.
“Round 2,” WSU senior Elizabeth Field said. “They know what happened last year, so they’re gunning for us, absolutely.”
The Shockers are cruising into the NCAAs in part because of improved offensive efficiency, especially on out-of-system balls. They committed 28 attack errors in a 3-2 loss at Southern Illinois on Dec. 2. Since that loss, WSU averaged 3.6 errors a set and kept its attack percentage over .230 in all seven wins. In Saturday’s sweep of SIU in the MVC Tournament championship, the Shockers hit .231 with 13 errors.
“We’ve done a good job of bringing those down over the last few weeks and that’s absolutely a key reason as to why we’ve become more successful,” Field said. “Keeping our errors down as hitters, when things aren’t perfect, is huge.”
The Shockers face a Kansas team that is more balanced than last season’s version. KU finished second in the Big 12 and went 7-7 against NCAA teams. Three Jayhawks recorded 300-plus kills and two more have 200-plus. Senior Erin McNorton, once a walk-on, earned Big 12 Setter of the Year honors.
“The No. 1 thing is that they reduced errors,” Lamb said. “Last year, they were capable of giving you some (points) and they really cleaned that up.”
Senior middle Caroline Jarmoc (350 kills) and outside hitters Sara McClinton (336) and Chelsea Albers (300) were named to the All-Big 12 team. McNorton’s decisions directed Kansas to a .260 attack percentage, best in the program’s history. When McNorton, from Dallas, walked on, Bechard hoped she would turn into a solid setter to run the scout team. Instead, she worked her way into a starting job as a junior.
“She can just be counted on each day,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “If you put a hittable ball up there and you’re consistent, hitters are going to begin to connect. Erin can spread the ball around and she’s got pretty good control of most of our play sets.”
WSU’s middles dominated last season’s match in Lawrence. Ashley Andrade hit .438 with 18 kills and Field added 13 kills and hit .619. Both continued to play well this season with Andrade building on that success to create one of the best seasons by a Shocker.
“She would be a great middle in any league — Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12,” Bechard said. “She’s so complete in that she’s just got an array of shots.”