Wichita State's volleyball team spent the week working on passing and getting more offense from its middles. Thursday's practice served as an encouraging, energetic finish.
Coach Chris Lamb called it one of the best sessions of the season in preparation for tonight's match against Illinois State (11-3, 1-0 Missouri Valley Conference) and Saturday's with Indiana State (8-6, 0-1).
"He was pleased with our passing and our middles terminating the ball from behind the setter and in front of the setter," junior outside hitter Camri Zweisler said. "We've been working a lot, lot, lot on the middles. Those numbers are going to be great this weekend."
WSU (8-3, 1-1) needs a rebound weekend after splitting matches on the road. The Shockers swept Bradley a week ago before getting swept at then-No. 17 Northern Iowa (25-23, 25-18, 25-23).
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The Shockers didn't come home despondent after the loss. They recorded 39 kills in the three sets, one more than UNI and totaled a better attack percentage in two of the three sets.
"I think they learned something at Northern," Lamb said. "Partly, they learned where we need to get better. I think another part is, they learned they can compete at that level. We out-hit them, so it wasn't hitting. We outscored them, so it wasn't scoring. Where do those couple of points come from? Well, they come from, perhaps, youthful mistakes. We didn't play clean."
Playing clean starts with serve-receive and passing. Liberos Jackie Church and Sarah Waldorf put in extra time this week, starting at 7 a.m. The Shockers struggled at Northern Iowa, so much so that Church replaced Waldorf at libero for the third set. Church recorded a career-high 17 digs in the match. Lamb said he isn't sure who will start tonight.
"We' re making sure we get that extra practice in," Church said. "Making sure we get our forearms to the ball. Making sure we get our bodies right."
Church said the Shockers often started their offense awkwardly against UNI. Bad passes forced setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper to set from less-than-desirable positions and slowed down the hitters. WSU hit .167 for the match, its lowest percentage since a loss to Portland on Sept. 4.
"If we're going to be the terminal team that we are, we have to have a good pass," Church said. "Without that, people can't hit."
Lamb would like to see more of those passes start plays for his middles. WSU neglected that aspect somewhat early in the season when Hooper limited her practice time to protect sore legs.
"We started focusing on other things, and we might have gone backwards," Lamb said. "That's something that needs daily oiling."
Lamb is encouraged after the week of practice with a heavy emphasis on setting the middles. High on his list is getting Sarah McGee and Elizabeth Field more quick sets to return a volley before the defense can organize.
"We want to set the middle quickly on that ball so that they have less time to react blocking," Field said. "That speed, that quickness puts a lot of pressure on their defense."