If somebody needs to ask the question, that somebody is Elizabeth Field. No question.
During a drill. During a meeting. During a scouting report. When everybody is looking around, waiting for help deciphering something Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb said, they look to Field.
“She is very methodical and analytical,” teammate Ashley Andrade said. “She is the one who will ask questions. She says it in words that he will understand, whereas sometimes if we say it, he will say, ‘What are you trying to get at?’”
Perhaps, as Andrade suggests, it’s a NorCal thing. Lamb is from Sebastopol, Calif.; Field is from Windsor, about 16 miles apart.
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“I ask a lot of questions,” Field said. “I’ve had this conversation with the coaches before, and they tell me, ‘Field, you’re a very literal person.’ They’ll use words like ‘only’ or ‘never’ or ‘always’ and I can always come up with an exception. I want to make sure I understand.”
Field digs for information. Andrade follows instructions.
“I carry out orders and do what I’m told,” Andrade said.
Together, they will carry WSU’s offense this season as a senior duo of middle blockers. The 24th-ranked Shockers open the season against North Dakota State on Friday in Orem, Utah.
This is their third season starting together and their last chance to answer the debate Lamb often voices — are they the best middles to play for him? Lamb regularly makes the case and then just as quickly backtracks a bit as he considers the impressive statistics of former Shockers Jen Ray and Elizabeth Meyers.
Ultimately, that question is of little importance. The bigger question: Can Field and Andrade carry their spectacular numbers from the final weeks of 2012 through an entire season? Andrade, in particular, emerged from an inconsistent season to dominate in NCAA Tournament wins over Arkansas and Kansas.
“I don’t want to wait for (Andrade),” Lamb said. “We know what she can do, and I want wire to wire. Everybody was talking about the end of our season and so much of it had to with what Wichita State was able to do with our quick attacking with her and Elizabeth.”
Andrade poked into late November with five straight games of eight kills or fewer. Her production improved entering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, where she recorded 11 against Missouri State and 13 against Northern Iowa. In NCAA play, however, she hit another gear with 23 kills and a .564 attack percentage against Arkansas and 18 kills and a .438 attack percentage against Kansas.
Andrade attributes the burst to one finger opening up half the court. She struggled all season trying to hit with quicks with her thumb down, sending the ball rocketing to the left side of the defense. For most of the season, opponents sat on her “pinky down” shots across her body to the right and the scouting report limited Andrade’s efficiency.
“Everybody else in the conference pretty much picked up on it,” she said. “There were a lot of times they were just standing on my left side so that I couldn’t go pinky down and I would have to go thumb down.”
Lamb demanded more variety and Andrade’s work in practice paid off. When the “thumb down” clicked, she gave herself new lanes to attack and opponents failed to adjust. Opposing middles couldn’t close the block and the back row presented easy targets.
“Lambo, one day, really dropped the hammer on them and told them they had to fix their shots,” setter Chelsey Feekin said. “She worked so hard for weeks on getting that one angle down to hit to that side of the court.”
Field enjoyed similar success, totaling 14 kills against Arkansas and 13 against Kansas, with a .619 attack percentage. Andrade earned national player of the week honors. Southern Cal coach Mick Haley focused his defense on stopping Feekin’s quick sets to the middles in the Sweet 16 match, a 3-0 win for the Trojans in Austin.
Andrade and Field, who earned second-team All-MVC honors last season, are different players who are working on their differences. Andrade excels playing close to Feekin, slamming down quick sets. Field is more agile and scores more on the move while playing behind the setter. Lamb sees Andrade improving on Field’s specialties and vice versa.
“Ashley has always been fast, so fast,” Field said. “She gets up so quickly in the gaps. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as fast as her, but my tempo is improving.”
On Tuesday, Field took a set four feet from Feekin and viciously smashed it into the floor in the Koch Arena practice gym. Lamb smiled big and waved off the rest of practice, recognizing the momentum of ending on a high note.
Field did not need to question that decision.