Middle blocker Sarah McGee isn't sure why she is so effective hitting behind the setter for Wichita State's volleyball team. She does know it works well, and her production there is one of the reasons the Shockers think they can finish strong this season.
"The middles have stepped it up huge," setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper said. "(McGee) behind (the setter) has been amazing. I love that, because (coach Chris Lamb) always said we needed that slide-hitting middle."
WSU (15-5, 8-3 Missouri Valley Conference) starts a crucial home stretch against Missouri State tonight at Koch Arena. The Shockers won four straight matches to climb into a tie for second place with MSU (17-5, 8-3) and Creighton (13-8, 8-3).
McGee, a senior from Florissant, Mo., ranks seventh in the MVC in hitting percentage at .308. In her past four matches, she recorded hitting percentages of better than .400 three times. McGee's move from playing next to the setter to playing behind her and taking longer sets on the move is working.
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"Last year, I was never a slide hitter," McGee said. "So I had to become one. This year, I knew I was going to be the one hitting slides, so I've been working on that a lot."
Lamb said McGee's experience allows her to succeed at the position. With her there, other players such as Elizabeth Field are more effective in the middle.
"A lot of good things are happening around her," Lamb said. "She busts her tail. She's cerebral. She's been playing old for a long time. Now she can slow the game down for herself."
The Shockers hope their four-match streak, their longest since early September, is the start of a finishing kick. Hooper hasn't given up on catching No. 13 Northern Iowa (20-2, 11-0). Even if the Shockers finish second, an RPI in the 20s (WSU is currently No. 29) likely gets them a spot in the NCAA Tournament. UNI enjoys a comfortable lead, but it must play five of its final seven MVC matches on the road.
"We buckled down and we realize we have to win out," Hooper said. "A few things have gone our way, and if we keep doing our part, then other parts might fall apart and we might get this thing."
Missouri State defeated WSU 3-1 in Springfield on Oct. 2. To reverse that result, the Shockers must serve better to keep the Bears scrambling on offense. In the first meeting, MSU recorded a .240 attack percentage and is the only WSU opponent to hit better than .200. Outside hitter Christine McCartney had 19 kills and hit .209. Kelley Michnowicz hit .529 with 10 kills and middle Shayla Patrick hit .412 with nine kills.
"I remember not serving and passing well at their place," Lamb said.
The Shockers led the first set 24-22 before losing. In third set, MSU broke a 17-all tie by outscoring the Shockers 8-6 to win. In the fourth set, MSU led 18-17 before winning with a 7-3 run.
"We need to finish," Hooper said. "It was really us. We had game point in endless games, and we couldn't finish."