Wichita State's volleyball team hasn't traditionally had much good fortune in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
For the last few seasons, the Shockers haven't needed it.
WSU's only postseason conference title came in 2004, but it has earned at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2007.
An improved conference has helped the Shockers keep their RPI high. They're the No. 2 seed entering the Valley tournament, which begins today and is hosted by top-seeded Northern Iowa. The Shockers have a first-round bye and play Friday against the winner of Creighton-Drake.
"The idea is that Creighton, Drake — not really a land mine," WSU coach Chris Lamb said. "If you lose to them you won't find your RPI dropping 15 or 20 spots.
"I feel like our RPI can be protected and playing other Missouri Valley teams doesn't hurt you like maybe it did in 2004 or 2005."
WSU entered the final weekend ranked No. 20 in RPI. A loss to UNI and a win over Bradley gave the Shockers a two-point boost.
If the ranking holds steady, WSU is likely to earn its fourth-straight NCAA berth even if it doesn't win the conference tournament.
It hasn't always been that way. In 2005 and 2006, WSU combined for a 53-10 record and didn't reach the NCAA Tournament. They were undefeated in Valley regular-season play in 2005 before losing in the conference tournament championship.
"I'm never going to feel comfortable," Lamb said. "We've seen a lot of crazy things happen in the past and a lot of things have happened to me and our program.
"But there's some good to this. At least the last three years, RPI seems to have told the story. When you go down the list, the teams that were left out had lower RPIs."
The Shockers enter the tournament with a different look. Middle blocker Sarah McGee injured her knee last weekend, but Ashley Andrade filled in nicely, making her first start against Bradley.
Other players have also emerged, giving WSU depth it didn't have early in the season to complement outside hitters Emily Adney and Camri Zwiesler. McGee's status for this week is uncertain.
"When we started the season beating Oklahoma, it was the Camri-Adney show and hang on," Lamb said. "Now you've had Sarah McGee throughout the year, Elizabeth Field learned how to play volleyball and Backes got going again. Now you've got scoring in five spots and balance is what you're looking for."