Jackie Church is the oldest of three children and used to making instructions from an authority figure palatable. When her parents needed the kids to help clean house, she got her sister and brother to go along.
“I would hear what they wanted, then I would put it in a way that my younger brother and sister would understand and want to do,” she said. “I’m the middleman.”
Church, Wichita State’s senior libero, performs a similar role for the volleyball team. She leads a young group of defenders who are rapidly improving their skills. Improved serve-receive and passing helped WSU (14-5, 7-2 Missouri Valley Conference) on a four-match win streak that started at Oklahoma. The Shockers start the second half of MVC play at Southern Illinois (16-4, 6-3) on Friday and Evansville (7-15, 2-7) on Saturday.
“It’s gotten better because Jordan Hinkle, Kelsey Banwart and Gaby Urban, all first-timers to the floor, are significantly more comfortable,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “They don’t defer like new players to the floor often do. They expect the ball to come to them.”
Church, in her first season starting as libero, plays the prime role in leading the littles. Banwart, a sophomore, played in 27 matches as a redshirt freshman last season. Hinkle, also a sophomore, played in five as a redshirt freshman. Urban redshirted last season. All three fill the role of defensive specialist this season. They are gradually becoming more assertive and more proficient, with Church’s encouragement and instruction.
“She gives good criticism and good help that she’s learned over the years,” Urban said. “She helps us on our passing form, things that she’s learned over the years of practice.”
Church is one of two seniors on the roster and Lamb is happy to see her explain road trips, mid-terms and the grind of a long season before the coaches.
“A lot of girls are hoping that Jackie will say something to her, because it’s soothing,” he said. “She has a calming, mature approach. She is preparing everybody for what’s ahead — good and bad.”
WSU’s passing also improved because of a change Lamb made before the Oklahoma match, where he put Church and senior outside hitter Emily Adney in position to take more serves. Church responded with an outstanding effort in a 3-1 win at Oklahoma, recording passing accuracy numbers that Lamb said matched those of Kelly Broussard, WSU’s honorable mention All-America libero in 2008.
“It was a night when she was all over the ball, and magical with her (passing) platform,” Lamb said. “She had a high number of attempts and a high, high passing score.”
Church points to extra work that the Shocker littles routinely do. It is not unusual for them to take hundreds of serves in individual instruction an hour before practice.
“It’s like shooting a free throw, where you do it over and over and over again,” she said. “The littles are really stepping it up and they’re realizing how important it is.”