Creighton built Sokol Arena to give women’s sports an appropriately sized home-court advantage for the Bluejays. As far as Wichita State volleyball is concerned, that plan works.
Creighton is 3-0 against the Shockers in the 2,500-seat on-campus arena, which replaced the 9,000-seat Civic Auditorium in downtown Omaha in 2009. With a band and an active student section, Sokol Arena isn’t an easy place to play.
“The band, they’re right behind us,” WSU middle blocker Ashley Andrade said. “You can’t hear what (coach Chris Lamb) is trying to scream at you while you’re playing and you can’t hear each other.”
WSU (6-3) opens Missouri Valley Conference play this weekend, at Drake (0-9) on Friday and at Creighton (8-1) on Saturday. The Bluejays compiled the Valley’s best non-conference performance, winning tournaments at South Florida and Northern Colorado. It defeated three 2011 NCAA teams and handed Wisconsin its only loss. No. 19 Kansas State defeated Creighton.
Other MVC teams experience the same frustration at Sokol Arena. Creighton is 22-5 in MVC games — 1-5 against Northern Iowa and Missouri State and 21-0 against the other seven schools. WSU won four straight in Omaha from 2005-08 and the past two losses went to five sets.
“They’re always on their A game when we go up there,” WSU junior Sam Sanders said. “It’s a smaller gym, and they pack it full of fans. I think that might get to us, too, because their student section is always right there by our bench.”
In most seasons, a loss or two dooms a team to second place in the Valley. Northern Iowa is 54-0 in conference matches the past three seasons and WSU went 18-0 or 17-1 when it won four titles between 2004-08.
Most non-conference play is finished, and the MVC may offer a more balanced race with fewer NCAA at-large candidates when selections are made in late November. The MVC is 52-47 in non-conference play after going 73-45 (with two NCAA at-large teams) a year ago and 94-34 (three at-large teams) in 2010.
Preseason favorite Northern Iowa (7-4), which has won three straight titles, dropped out of the top 25 with four losses to ranked teams. UNI and Creighton are the lone MVC teams receiving votes in the coaches poll. WSU grabbed the Valley’s lone win (in eight matches) against a ranked team when it defeated then-No. 24 Colorado State. The Shockers missed chances at resume-building wins with five-set losses at home to then-No. 14 Tennessee and No. 15 BYU.
With the non-conference record around .500, Lamb hopes strength of schedule will boost MVC teams. He is confident playing teams such as Colorado State, Auburn and New Mexico State will pay off for WSU.
“Our non-con (winning percentage) right now is at 63,” he said. “I think that’s going to find its way up to 70. I predict that most of our non-con teams, their records will improve through conference play.”
Thomas (6-foot-3, 175 pounds) is ranked No 48 among shooting guards nationally by ESPN.com. He attends Prime Prep Academy after playing last season at Skyline. Morris (6-8, 262) attends Edmond Memorial and is ranked the No. 4 prospect in Oklahoma by ESPN.
WSU has non-binding commitments from guard Rian Holland of South View (N.C.) and forward Earl Watson of Chipola (Fla.) College. Forward Teddy Hawkins, who signed with the Shockers in November, is attending Quakerdale Prep (Iowa) and has said he plans on attending WSU after he meets NCAA eligibility standards during his year at the prep school.