Valley volleyball race tightens up

10/11/2012 6:32 PM

10/11/2012 6:32 PM

Wichita State’s volleyball team lost two conference games and can still feel as if it is a major part of the Missouri Valley Conference race. Savor that feeling. It doesn’t happen often.

The Valley race isn’t half over, yet it appears there is no dominant team. No team is ranked in the coaches’ top 25 and Creighton carries the top power ranking at No. 29.

That is good news for WSU (13-5, 6-2 MVC), which plays at Missouri State (11-9, 5-3) Friday. Most seasons, two MVC losses is too big of a hole to climb out. This season, the Shockers are in the race and play co-leaders Creighton and Northern Iowa at Koch Arena in the second half of the schedule.

“We keep telling our girls we need to go undefeated at home,” WSU senior Jackie Church said. “Northern Iowa, Creighton, Missouri State, they all have to come back here. If we take care of that, who knows how the Valley is going to end up.”

Creighton snapped Northern’s Iowa’s 59-match conference win streak, one week after the Bluejays lost at Southern Illinois. Creighton is 6-1, but swept only one MVC opponent. Northern Iowa, the three-time defending Valley champ, is also 6-1. For the first time since 2007, the Valley champ will have at least one loss.

“This isn’t going to be easy,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “The Missouri Valley teams at the bottom play cleaner than they used to. They don’t err like they used to.”

The NCAA power rankings (RPI) show a conference that is tighter and deeper at the top, with dramatic improvement by SIU, than last season and weaker at the bottom. Last season, UNI finished with a No. 9 RPI. This season, Creighton leads at No. 29, with WSU (No. 39) and UNI (No. 52) next. In 2011, three MVC teams ranked 200 or lower; this season, it’s four.

Lamb is concerned a tighter race and the lack of a dominant team will hurt national perception and cost the MVC at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. Since 2005, five of the seven champions went 18-0.

“We ran the table a bunch; Northern ran the table a bunch,” Lamb said. “I saw this coming. The bad thing is, when the mid-major conferences start beating each other up, it almost seems like it weakens the conference.”

WSU outside hitter Emily Adney isn’t going to think about the race in October, even though the Shockers haven’t won the MVC title since 2008.

“It’s too stressful,” she said. “It’s Missouri State this weekend.”

Notes — WSU setter Chelsey Feekin led the nation in hitting percentage (.481) in the NCAA statistics report released Monday. The Shockers ranked No. 42 nationally at .247, behind SIU (.262) and Creighton (.247) in the MVC.… The Shockers won two of three from the Bears in 2011 and are 15-7 against them since 2004.… MSU setter Carly Thomas has two triple-doubles (kills-assists-digs) this season. The Bears leads the Valley with an average of 13.31 assists and are second in kills at 14.13 a set.… MSU middle Kaitlin Jaeger ranks fourth in the MVC in attack percentage (.329) with middle Amber Doolittle sixth at .310. Outside hitter Christine McCartney is ninth in kills with an average of 2.96 a set.

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