Wichita State’s volleyball team is less than a week from its opening match, often a time when coach Chris Lamb is long on concerns. Things are different this August, and people around the program notice Lamb’s mood.
“He is happy that we came in prepared,” junior outside hitter Sam Sanders said. “This is the first two-a-days I’ve had that have gone this good. We’re playing great. We don’t have to spend time learning a lot of things, so we can compete more, and I think he’s excited about that.”
Lamb loves his practice time and the two-a-days that ended Friday pleased him greatly. Much of the buzz from practices is that an improved second unit is pushing the starters harder than in recent seasons. That produces better volleyball from everyone. Most of the team, including newcomers, worked out in Wichita this summer and that time helps the Shockers move quickly in fall practices.
“I feel like I’m a gretty good barometer of them,” Lamb said. “If I’m happy, it’s because they’re liking each other and they’re playing hard and they’re bringing energy every day. I feel happy.”
Senior outside hitter Emily Adney measures practices by the intensity of scrimmages. She sees teammates diving for digs, hustling and supporting each other.
“So competitive,” she said. “People are getting balls up like crazy. Nobody is just looking and letting balls drop. The energy is great.”
The freshman class is playing better than Lamb anticipated, a big help to the practice atmosphere. Their talents make practice more competitive and Lamb hasn’t had to spend much time preparing them for drills or getting them ready to play hard. They came in ready to go.
“We’re way stronger this year all around the board at every position,” Adney said. “Instead of having one person that does it, we have several people who do several different things. The freshmen are amazing this year, which is so nice. It doesn’t even seem like they’re brand new.”
The Shockers, picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference coaches poll released Thursday, play New Mexico State on Friday in DeKalb, Ill. in the NIU Invitational. Many of Lamb’s concerns about his team are diminishing, although important decisions await this week.
“I love that many of the things we had to improve on … seem to be there,” Lamb said. “We put our time into it, and it’s good. Young people that will be asked to play, they do well at the things we are asking them do to.”
His middles are set with juniors Ashley Andrade and Elizabeth Field. Adney, an All-MVC pick as a junior, will play on the left. Junior Chelsey Feekin will set and senior Jackie Church should win the libero job. Sanders must find a spot, either on the right or the left. Freshman Katie Reilly can also play either spot. Freshman Ashlyn Driskill is scoring efficiently on the left in practices.
“We’re trying to work on balancing the offense,” Lamb said. “We still need to find scoring in a few spots and we still need to get a little bit better with the serve-and-pass game. We’ll grow the defensive adjustments. Right now, we’re playing pretty simple defensively.”