Katie Reilly is not the type of volleyball player who enjoys watching. She is an all-energy player who is learning how to channel that energy as a sophomore-to-be.
After playing a reserve role as a pin player much of her freshman year, Reilly is ticketed for more responsibility in the fall. Wichita State coach Chris Lamb used spring practices, which ended with Saturday’s match against Nebraska, to prepare her to play six rotations, as players such as Emily Adney, Emily Stockman and Sara Lungren did.
“She’s the right kind of athlete,” Lamb said. “We try our hardest to sniff out kids who might be able to do that and I think we struck gold there.”
Reilly loves the idea. She played middle in club volleyball, so her experience in the back row is limited to high school. Playing six rotations forces her to see the court in different ways and understand the game from the perspective of someone involved in serve-receive and passing. When she played front row as a freshman, she knew the hitting routes and signals. In the back row, she must know the passing plays that set up the scoring attempts. WSU needs her to become a scoring threat from the back row, especially when the rotation takes setter Chelsey Feekin to the front row.
“Your brain develops and you have to become a smarter player,” she said. “It is so much fun. I hope that I can be that six-rotation player. I love being on the court.”
Reilly enjoyed several big moments as a freshman. She recorded 10 kills and hit .310 in her first match, a loss to New Mexico State. She gave the Shockers a boost late in the season when a shoulder injury sidelined Sam Sanders. She contributed five kills in an NCAA Tournament win over Arkansas and three against Kansas. She played all three sets of the Sweet 16 loss to Southern Cal, recording four kills on six swings and adding two digs.
WSU needs passers to take the place of Adney and libero Jackie Church, seniors on last season’s team. Lamb needs Reilly, along with classmates Ashlyn Driskill and MaryAshton Floyd, to help in the back row.
“Katie Reilly has made amazing strides as a passer,” he said. “For someone who didn’t have that role last year to having it this year, some of our best passing performances of our spring matches have been from Katie Reilly.”
The challenge for Reilly is blending the aggressiveness of a hitter with the composure needed to turn serves into well-placed passes to start the attack.
“I’ll get really fired up and in the front row, you can do that,” she said. “In the back row, you have to wait. If you guess, you’re out of position.”
“That was our extreme goal last year,” Feekin said. “Now we’ve been there and we know it can be accomplished. We don’t want to settle for anything less than that again next year.”
The Shockers received their Sweet 16 rings last week.
However, it is easy to forget the scouting report when a runner enters a close game and is trying desperately to get to second base. WSU’s Cale Elam picked Evansville pinch-runner Michael Eckstein off first base in the eighth inning on Friday. The Shockers won 5-4 and Elam’s trickery helped them escape the inning with a one-run lead.
“It has been on Wichita State’s scouting report for probably 30 years, that they do that,” Carroll said. “But, as a head coach, you’ve got to take blame for not having a player ready to play.”
The Shockers earned a split on the third-to-first move in that inning. Reliever Brandon Peterson was called for a balk when he tried it, pushing a run across for the Aces.
WSU’s Hannah Martin is ranked seventh in the MVC with a stroke average of 78.15.
Defending champion Missouri State is the favorite, in voting by coaches, followed by Illinois State and Bradley. The three-day tournament starts at 9 a.m. Sunday with 18 holes at The Club at Porto Cima.
WSU finished sixth last season. In 2011, it finished second.
Timothy Jordan, from Dungannon, Ireland, won the 2012 Ulster Boys Amateur Open and played for his country’s under-18 team in the Cardigan Cup vs. Wales. Maxwell Mason, from Orono, Minn., earned All-Class 3A honors last spring and won two tournaments on the Minnesota PGA Junior Golf circuit last summer.
Grant Bennett, of Prosper, Texas, and Shayne Allen, of Johannesburg, South Africa, signed with WSU last fall.