By the standards of most sophomore seasons, Mary Elizabeth Hooper is doing just fine as Wichita State's volleyball setter.
She led the Missouri Valley Conference in assists (10.76 a set) entering the weekend matches. Her team is winning and she is a better defensive player than a year ago.
None of that seems to console Hooper, who is disappointed with her sophomore season. Everything went to perfectly for her as a freshman, and perhaps that's part of the problem.
Conditions change. Expectations rise.
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"It's definitely been a different season in many aspects," she said. "I'm not happy with how I've been performing. Last year was last year, and that's behind me, but it's definitely hard."
Hooper's biggest disappointment is her offense. One publication named her national Freshman of the Year in 2008. She totaled 149 kills (1.28 a set) with a .284 attack percentage. This season, points are much harder to come by. She has 56 kills (.80 a set) with a .123 attack percentage.
"I'm not scoring as well," she said. "Teams are scouting me."
Defenses are challenging Hooper more, and that's just one of her obstacles. WSU's changing lineups, some brought on by injury, make hooking up with hitters more difficult. Coach Chris Lamb expects more from her, and he's not disappointed to see her disappointed.
"It's not just 'Hooper, you keep trying and the hitters will be there,'" he said. "Now we're holding her accountable to more stuff. She can handle it, and she wants it."
Hooper looked a lot happier after Friday's 3-0 win over Missouri State. She handed out 43 assists and recorded three kills with a .222 attack percentage. More important, WSU's offense ran smoothly and she distributed the ball all over the court.
"It helps when she has confidence," middle Sarah McGee said. "Especially with the middles, because we've had our ups and downs all season and last season. Working on it a lot in practice and then seeing progress in games has been uplifting for her and the middles."
The win pulled WSU (16-4, 7-3 MVC) within a match of second-place MSU (15-6, 8-2). The Shockers feel better about their physical and mental health as the second half of the conference schedule begins. Hooper will need to continue to play as she did Friday for WSU to make run at first-place Northern Iowa.
"I kept firing it to the hitters and everything kept working," she said. "I was pumped up about it. When they're going to bash it down every single time, no errors, I'm going to keep shooting it to them."
Full fare — Shocker fans passed the legitimacy test for volleyball several years ago. WSU ranked 10th nationally in average attendance in 2006 and seventh in 2007. Last season, WSU ranked fifth with an average of 3,177.
Friday's season-high crowd of 3,608 ranks sixth in the program's history. It's also notable because it didn't take $1 tickets or buy-one-get-one-free deals to lure fans. The Shockers went up against high school football, while playing less-than-their-best volleyball over recent weeks, and drew well.
In the eyes of WSU's administration, that's the sign of a solid fan base.
"I have a feeling people put the match with the Bears on their calendar, it's always a big one," Lamb said.
WSU is averaging 2,824 fans through nine dates in 2009, numbers that will likely finish in the top 10 again.
Throwing again — WSU pitcher Logan Hoch's comeback passed important milestones last week. He threw in two games of the fall series, his closest encounter with a real game since July 2008.
Hoch has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since that time. He underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder and missed last season.
"I'm probably about 85-90 percent," he said. "The shoulder feels good. Not great, but good enough."
Hoch, a senior from Southeast, threw a scoreless, hitless inning on Tuesday for Black. He followed with two innings on Thursday in which he gave up two hits and two runs.
"Throwing a bullpen doesn't compare to live hitters," he said. "Getting back out on the mound — that's what I love to do. I love to pitch."
Hoch said he is throwing around 80 mph, down from 88-89 when healthy. The rehab staff tells him velocity is the last asset to return. He expects to be throwing harder when WSU opens the season in February.
"I know everything's healed up like it's supposed to," he said. "It's just going to take time to get stronger."
Calendar check — Intrust Bank Arena is holding dates for WSU's men's basketball team to play a conference game there later this season.
"We have a few options," WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said.
Sexton said WSU is working through final details with the Valley and opponents before making a decision. One date that is out is Creighton on Jan. 9, which conflicts with the Brad Paisley concert at the downtown arena.
Worth noting — WSU has about 460 season tickets remaining for men's basketball.... WSU's athletic luncheon series begins Nov. 10 with basketball coaches Jody Adams and Gregg Marshall as the speakers. Cost is $20 each or $85 for five luncheons. For information call 978-3267.