Wichita State didn't have much experience with the tension and suddenness of a five-set match. The Shockers own a little more now, and they hope that helps the rest of the season.
WSU held off Illinois State to win 3-2 (25-19, 25-22, 19-25, 26-28, 15-9) on Friday at Koch Arena. The Shockers had not played a five-set match since a loss to Miami (Fla.) on Aug. 28. Coach Chris Lamb preferred an easier win, but loved the resiliency his team showed.
"In a lot of ways, that was the biggest win of the year," he said. "I thought for 35, 40 minutes the best team in the gym was on the other side of the net. We had to survive."
WSU (9-3, 2-1 Missouri Valley Conference) went into survival mode after falling behind 3-0 in the fifth set. From there, all the things that worked for WSU in the first two sets came back. The Shockers tied the score on Sarah McGee's kill and went up 5-3 on a smash by Amanda Backes. They never trailed again, eventually building a 12-7 lead. McGee and Backes both contributed three kills during that run.
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"Their offense connected and they were able to get two or three players firing," Illinois State coach Melissa Myers said. "We were able to get a couple of weird points here and there which kind of kept us in it, but we didn't earn those points. Wichita State won that match because they put the ball on the floor."
The Redbirds (11-4, 1-1) did benefit from some oddities. The Shockers got caught with only five players on the floor in the third set. In the fifth set, Lamb received a yellow card for complaining to referee Tracey Harrison. Two points later, Harrison hit him with a red card for mildly protesting — Lamb held up two fingers to ask for a double hit — to give Illinois State a point.
The Shockers went home happy, however, and avoided a two-match losing streak.
"We should have won that in three and been out of here a long time ago," setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper said. "But, winning fifth games teaches you a lot, not only physically but mentally. Figuring out what works and staying in it until the bitter end."
McGee finished with a season-high 14 kills and a .323 hitting percentage. She also saw the benefit of getting pushed and surviving.
"The Valley is just really good, and we need to know that," she said. "Teams that might not have been so good, they're going to battle hard."
WSU hit .324 to Illinois State's .150 in the first set. The Redbirds steadily began to find their way after that. After the break, Illinois State out-hit WSU in the next two sets to even the match.
"We came out really tentative," Myers said. "We were able to do a better job defensively in the third set, and shut down a little bit more of their offense."
WSU's Camri Zwiesler had 17 kills, seven in the second set and none in the fifth. Emily Adney added 13.