Sometimes, getting lost helps a person discover where they want to go.
Wichita State junior Jordan Hinkle spent four weeks in Berlin this summer taking classes and learning how to navigate an unfamiliar city. She doesn’t speak German. She got lost. She learned how to read a subway map and how to find people willing to help with directions.
“It definitely pushed me out of the box, outside my shell,” she said. “If I can go overseas for four weeks, completely on my own I should have no problem taking on a leadership role. After having that experience, I have way more confidence.”
Confidence is what WSU’s volleyball team needs from Hinkle at libero. She is WSU’s most experienced returner at that position after the graduation of starter Jackie Church and the loss of Kelsey Banwart, who is no longer playing volleyball. Honorable mention All-American Emily Adney, who played six rotations, is also gone, meaning most of the passing prowess from last season’s Sweet 16 team is out the door.
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WSU coach Chris Lamb declares the position open entering Thursday’s first practice, but Hinkle put herself in a good spot with a strong spring. So did sophomore Gaby Urban and redshirt freshman Dani Mostrum. Hinkle played in 33 matches last season, recording 1.36 digs a set. Urban played in 22 and averaged 0.71 digs.
“(Hinkle’s) got work to do to keep her status,” Lamb said. “We’ll find out who our libero is here in a few weeks.”
Lamb is intrigued by Alyssa Carney, a freshman from Washburn Rural.
“Carney’s got big-time talent,” he said. “She shows up, maybe, as talented as any of them for the position.”
Hinkle, from Rosemount, Minn., came to WSU with weak fundamentals and a strong desire to improve. Her practices statistics, Lamb believes, likely improved more dramatically than any player he’s coached at WSU.
In her two seasons since transferring from Central Michigan, she improved her passing technique. She excelled this spring, particularly impressing Lamb with her play in a match at Texas.
“She’s always had the want-to and willingness to play with range defensively,” he said. “Jordan found her way. She was given an opportunity and really took advantage of it.”
As the elder member of the littles, Hinkle is talking more, instructing more and trying to fill the leadership void vacated by Church. She feels comfortable in that role and ready for more responsibility.
“I’ve done a better job of being more vocal, especially encouraging my teammates and making sure they’re prepared to play,” she said. “I definitely know it’s up to me, now.”
Hinkle, a three-time member of the athletic director’s honor roll, isn’t wasting time with her academics, either.
A trip abroad is required for WSU’s international business majors and she traveled to Germany for a class called Markets and Management and the European Union. She studied the language, a course on the European Union and a seminar on cultural barriers and differences. For a marketing segment of the class, she visited the BMW factory in Leipzig.
She took her picture next to the Berlin Wall and sent it to her 429 Twitter followers with the message, “ ‘Tear down this wall’ standing on history!”
Prague’s architecture and cobblestone streets charmed her during a weekend stay. A 30-minute train ride to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp made the strongest impression.
“What blew my mind just how much hate there still is in the world,” she said. “The camp has been vandalized. People tried to burn it down, get rid of the history because they still have so much hate for certain people.”
• WSU opens the season on Aug. 30 against North Dakota State at Utah Valley State’s tournament. The Shockers don’t play a home match until Sept. 19 against Missouri State.
Lamb said the unusual schedule is a product of starting the Missouri Valley Conference schedule with its travel partner in a one-match weekend, Oklahoma ending its series with WSU and Louisville’s desire to play a single match. With those factors, it worked best for WSU to play its home tournament beginning Sept. 20. The Shockers will play host to South Dakota, Hawaii and Creighton.
“It worked out OK,” Lamb said. “If people want to know why we don’t play for so long, it has everything to do with we get to create our own tournament wrapped around a conference weekend. We’re going to use that to our advantage.”
• The Shockers won two NCAA Tournament matches last season to make their deepest advance, losing to Southern Cal in Austin. For Lamb, spring signaled the start of a new year.
“We’re going to talk expectations early, and try to keep our eye on the ball,” he said. “You give me a new bus driver, and I think I’ve got a new team. It’s about finding the right mix. It’s different.”
Beating Arkansas and Kansas and taking the court against the Longhorns are memories that the players won’t give up easily.
“It definitely raised the bar,” Hinkle said. “No feeling beats what we experienced last fall.”
• The health of outside hitter Sam Sanders, a senior who averaged 2.31 kills a set, is critical this season. A shoulder injury sidelined her late last season and she has battled injuries most of her career.
“She told me not to jinx her and even talk about it,” Lamb said. “She said she never felt better. She looks great.”
• WSU is one of 130 teams to earn a team academic award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The Shockers compiled a team grade-point average of 3.3 in 2012.