In late October 2008, Wichita State served up Drake's volleyball team as an appetizer for basketball.
Ugh. The pairing went together like hot wings and filet of sole.
Instead of giving up their table on time, the Bulldogs pushed unbeaten and 12th-ranked WSU to five sets. Drake's surprising performance delayed the start of Shocker Madness, WSU's introduction for its basketball teams, while an impatient crowd of 6,500 gathered at Koch Arena.
Drake's play is remembered as a nuisance for Shocker fans hungry for hoops. For coach Phil McDaniel, that night signaled an important moment.
"That was the first glimpse of where they really saw they could hang," McDaniel said. "Usually you don't come out of a loss with your heads held high. Some light bulbs came on that night."
WSU (10-4, 3-2 Missouri Valley Conference) plays at Drake (17-3, 3-3) at 7 tonight. The Shockers take a 19-match win streak into the match, but beating the Bulldogs is getting more difficult.
Drake finished 12-20 in 2008, 5-13 in the MVC. Last season, the Bulldogs broke through with their first winning season since 1996 with records of 22-12 and 10-8.
Drake, No. 208 in the NCAA's power rankings in 2008, is No. 46 this season. The Bulldogs won 14 straight matches to start the season, including a five-setter over Iowa.
"I thought it might take a few years," he said. "When we went 12-20, people were excited because that was a good year in comparison. For me, it was disappointing."
The Bulldogs rely on quick sets to their middle blockers and use that approach to open up hitting lanes for the outsides. Outside hitter Angela Bys ranks third in the MVC with an average of 4.03 kills a set. Middle Emily Heffernen is fourth with an attack percentage of .340.
"The biggest thing is we got the players to buy into a system and they believe," McDaniel said. "They just had to get over the mental hump of not being successful."
The Shockers are dealing with their own mental problems. In Saturday's 3-1 loss at Missouri State, they led 24-21 in the first set before losing 29-27. It's not the first time this season the Shockers let a set slip away.
"There's no reason to lose that set," junior libero Sarah Waldorf said. "You can't make crucial errors. We just have to get our brains in there working."
WSU enters the weekend tied for fourth in the MVC and with a chance to move up. It plays at second-place Creighton (10-6, 5-1) on Saturday night. Third-place Missouri State (13-3, 4-1), WSU's travel partner, plays at Creighton tonight.