Wichita State coach Chris Lamb likes the long-range view of his season after going 1-2 in the Shocker Volleyball Classic. Even two fifth-set losses didn’t alter his opinion that the Shockers are in good shape two weeks into the season.
The Shockers (3-3) fell to No. 14 Tennessee 3-2 (25-19, 28-26, 22-25, 24-26, 15-9) on Sunday in the tournament finale at Koch Arena. With four non-conference games remaining, Lamb believes WSU is on the right track for a strong power rating (RPI) and strength of schedule with two wins in its opening tournament and Thursday’s win over No. 24 Colorado State.
“You put these tough schedules and you can’t just show up and have them just show up,” Lamb said. “You got to to get a couple (wins). We did. All things considered, I’m happy and I know we’ve got more left in us.”
The Shockers complete their tournament schedule this week with three matches at the SMU Classic. They play at Oklahoma on Oct. 3, after the start of Missouri Valley Conference play.
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“These are kind of team-building moments where we have to take it and learn from our mistakes,” WSU middle Ashley Andrade said. “A lot of the things that got away from us from were our own fault.”
WSU’s middles kept the Shockers in the match. Andrade hit .524 with 13 kills, most on quick sets that found Tennessee out of position. Elizabeth Field added 12 kills. Kelsey Robinson led the Volunteers with 21 kills and setter Mary Pollmiller recorded 11 kills, 49 assists and 14 digs, the second triple-double in program history. Tennessee played without middle DeeDee Harrison, sidelined with a sprained ankle suffered Friday.
“I thought (Pollmiller) made some really good choices with the ball and put us in some good spots,” Tennessee coach Rob Patrick said. “We had a lot of split blocks to look at.”
Without Harrison, the Shockers gave Tennessee problems with Andrade and Field.
“That was a great move on their part to attack our middles,” Patrick said. “Wichita State is known, and they do a fantastic job of, being a little unorthodox. Their middle attack is quicker than normal. They’ll run people all over the place, so you have to be really cognizant where hitters are.”
On Sunday, the Shockers didn’t get their defense clicking until the third set and fell behind 2-0, allowing Tennessee (4-2) to hit .379 and .292 in the first two sets. In the fifth set, WSU fell behind 6-2, hurt by two attack errors by Emily Adney. WSU managed to get within two points at 11-9 before Tennessee finished the match with four straight points. On Friday, WSU led BYU 13-10 in the fifth set before falling 18-16.
“You feel like a fifth-game sprint is kind of a coin toss and you just feel like sooner or later it will go your way,” Lamb said. “In both cases we started with a lot of hitting errors. That’s tough.”
The Shockers may look back on the second set with just as much regret. They led 24-23 and 25-24 before losing 28-26. With the Volunteers finding plenty of open space, especially in the middle of the court, Lamb changed up his personnel in the back row. Gaby Urban, who played a minimal role Thursday and Friday, played all five sets against Tennessee and recorded 12 digs and three aces.
“I try not to be a difficult head coach, but I’m starting to put some pressure on some back-row people,” Lamb said. “They’ve got to keep their focus and concentration. Defenses are systems and every component part is connected. You cannot have people not in tune with what we’re trying to do. In this case, early in this match, simple things turned into points for Tennessee.”
Adney led WSU with 16 kills, hitting .111. Sam Sanders, who struggled in Friday’s loss to BYU, bounced back with 10 kills and a .235 attack percentage. Feekin contributed nine kills, 48 assists and 16 digs.