Wichita State senior volleyball player Lindsey Eckenrode played her first minutes of the season against Indiana State late last month.
That time served as more ceremonial than meaningful — Eckenrode sat out 2009 after knee surgery and her return to the court provoked a few tears. The time is coming when she will make more than a token appearance. Coach Chris Lamb said Eckenrode is ready for significant action during a weekend that starts with tonight's match against Southern Illinois at Koch Arena.
"This is as good as she's been in a long time, physically," Lamb said. "She has made herself more and more relevant as her body has allowed her."
Eckenrode, an outside hitter from The Woodlands, Texas, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee before the 2009 season and did not play. The injury held her back early in the fall. Over the past two weeks, Lamb noticed her regaining more of her old bounce and speed.
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"The last two weeks were pretty good weeks," she said. "I'm able to not think about my knee and just think about hitting. It's more a comfort level and remembering volleyball moves."
Eckenrode never relied on athletic ability. Her strengths are an accurate arm and good vision. With her knee improving, she is able to use those advantages again. She is again able to take a long-enough approach to the ball that she can gather momentum for her swing.
Her return could boost a Shocker offense that continues to search for scorers to help Camri Zwiesler and middle Sarah McGee. Lamb said the Shockers need another threat on the outside to move up in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
"She's always had that million dollar arm," Lamb said. "The left is her best spot, but she's also been pretty efficient on the right."
WSU (11-5, 4-3 MVC) enters the weekend in fifth place. The Shockers lead SIU (12-5, 3-4) by one match and trail third-place Evansville (16-3, 5-2) by one. The Aces, picked eighth, are the biggest surprise the conference race. They last compiled a winning record in 2000.
"Evansville, obviously is playing very well and playing very hard," Lamb said. "When you watch them on tape, you notice the energy."
Notes — Saturday's match begins at 5 p.m. and is "Dig Pink" night to raise cancer research awareness. Any fan wearing pink will receive a discounted ticket.... WSU has won 16 straight against SIU and 17 straight against Evansville.... The Aces lead the MVC with a .243 attack percentage, followed by WSU at .234. WSU leads the MVC at opponents hitting percentage (.141), followed by SIU at .144.