Wichita State’s volleyball coach Chris Lamb expected big things out of his freshmen and they surpassed his expectations in practices. The upperclassmen don’t consider them annoying rookies.
Shocker fans should understand why after the first two matches of the Shocker Volleyball Classic at Koch Arena. WSU’s freshmen are shining, and making up for what they lack in consistency with a flair for the dramatic.
“They’re all excited about volleyball and they work hard every day,” senior Emily Adney said. “They act like we do off the court, on the court. They deserve every bit of play time that they get.”
WSU (3-2) will try to recover from Friday’s 3-2 loss to BYU with what appears to be the toughest test of the tournament — No. 14 Tennessee on Sunday. To beat its second ranked opponent of the weekend, the Shockers will need contributions from freshmen hitters, and they appear up to the task.
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Ashlyn Driskill, from Valley Center, recorded nine kills and a .320 attack percentage in Thursday’s 3-1 win over No. 24 Colorado State. Against BYU, Driskill and junior Sam Sanders struggled, so Lamb went to his bench. Katie Reilly contributed seven kills, three in a 26-24 fourth-set win. MaryAshton Floyd, who didn’t play Thursday, came off the bench to score five kills and an ace, all in the final two sets. And, it’s worth remembering that freshman Katy Dudzinski, ticketed to start on the right, is out with a broken foot.
Driskill eased her transition to college volleyball by graduating early and joining WSU for spring practices. Still, her first weekend tournament wasn’t easy and she admitted to nerves before Thursday’s first home match. About 20 family members watched.
“It was awesome because I’ve grown up watching (WSU),” she said. “Knowing it’s my turn now, it’s really fun to be out there on the court helping a little bit. After I got through my first rotation, I was cooled down.”
Lamb considered Driskill a redshirt candidate. Then he got a good look at her in the spring and quickly changed that notion.
“Ashlyn’s a point scorer,” Lamb said. “We’re going to set that girl and she’s going to do it for us. She’s going to be a great Shocker.”
Driskill, like most freshmen, preferred not to sit out a season.
“It’s really hard to sit there and watch,” she said. “And once you’re out there, it’s an adrenaline rush and it’s so much fun.”
Floyd bailed the Shockers out late in Friday’s match by figuring out ways to score against BYU’s tall front row. She scored twice in a row to give WSU a lead it never lost late in the set. Her ace put WSU up 23-21 on its way to a 26-24 win. In the fifth set, her back-to-back kills tied the match 8-all.
“(Floyd) has been working on hitting high off hands since she gotten here,” Adney said. “I’m so glad she got to get in there and show her that it pays off.”
Tennessee, the defending SEC champions, will present WSU with a stronger combination of height and athletic ability than BYU. The Volunteers may be without middle DeeDee Harrison, who injured her ankle in Friday’s win over Colorado State and was on crutches. Junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson, the 2011 SEC Player of the Year, had 24 kills and 18 digs against the Rams.
“My impression of Tennessee is that they’re great,” Lamb said. “Colorado State did a great job to negate some of the matchup issues. Colorado State was very mature with their blocking strategy and were able to hang tough with, I think, a top-10 Tennessee team.”