Wichita State’s middle blockers are capable of carrying its offense. Coach Chris Lamb doesn’t want it to become a trend.
The Shockers won two of three matches last weekend in their season-opening volleyball tournament despite a noticeable lack of points from its left- and right-side hitters. WSU, which dropped out of the coaches poll after starting the season No. 24, swept North Dakota State and Utah Valley and lost to Arizona State in three sets. Until Katie Reilly recorded nine kills and a .471 attack percentage against Utah Valley on Saturday evening, no pin player contributed outstanding numbers.
“I know they are better than what we got this weekend,” Lamb said. “The frustrating thing is, I don’t know that our offense changed too much and, yet, we didn’t perform well in it. We just need to work out some timing issues and simplify some stuff.”
Reilly hit .194 for the tournament and led the pin players with 20 kills. Sam Sanders (17 kills) hit .150 with Ashlyn Driskill (13) at .036.
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Setter Chelsey Feekin expects experience to improve those performances. While Sanders is a senior, Reilly and Driskill are sophomores. Their responsibilities are different without the six-rotation skills of former Shocker Emily Adney, who started all four years, in the lineup.
“They’ve all had experience, but none of them have the Emily Adney kind of experience out there,” Feekin said. “They just haven’t gotten as comfortable as she was by the end of her time. They’ll get in a rhythm and figure out where they’re good at scoring.”
The Shockers survived the weekend and the ugly loss to Arizona State, and are still receiving votes in the poll, with plenty of scoring from middles Elizabeth Field, who joined Feekin on the all-tournament team, and Ashley Andrade. Field is hitting .540 and averaging 3.1 kills a set. Andrade is hitting .277 an averaging 2.3 kills.
“(Field) sees everything better and knows before she leaves the ground what’s going on,” Lamb said. “In the past, I thought sometimes she would just swing and sees where it goes. Now she attack selects better.”
Lamb entered the tournament concerned about his team’s passing skills. Adney and former libero Jackie Church handled the bulk of the passing attempts last season. After the first weekend, Lamb is encouraged with the play of his back row. Freshman Alyssa Carney started the final game at libero to get WSU in its best serving lineup. In practices this week, Lamb will train his defensive specialists across the back row and open the libero job to more competition.
“We faced three nice serving teams,” Lamb said. “We’re talking new people back there. I’m actually pretty pleased with that result.”
WSU plays Utah State (2-1) and Portland (0-3) on Friday in the Portland (Ore.) Nike Invitational. Utah State defeated Northern Iowa 3-1 in its opening tournament. The Shockers play Fresno State (1-2) on Saturday.
In the pack — WSU’s cross country teams started the season with a sweep at the Butler County triangular, competing against junior college teams. The competition improves on Saturday in the JK Gold Classic at Augusta’s RAFT Golf Course.
Kansas State, Oral Roberts and the Nebraska-Omaha women will compete in the NCAA Division I part of the race, which will be scored as dual meets.
While the opener served as a training race, coach Kirk Hunter liked his team’s cohesion. Without dominant runners on either side, Hunter believes it is important for his runners to run as a group.
“We packed up,” he said. “I was really impressed with the way they stayed together and that was one of the main objectives. I’m hoping they use that to their advantage this week when we really have to get out and step it up another level.”
Weaker runners can use the momentum and encouragement of the pack to perform better than expected. The women’s team lost All-American Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton and the men lost three seniors.
“Individually, we’re just not as strong as maybe we were last year,” Robbie Martinez-Garcia said. “If we’re going to make any kind of noise in the conference, we need to run together as a team. It’s intimidating, if they see a bunch of Wichita State runners running together and they’re working off each other and motivating and pushing each other to go faster, it’s got put some fear in some competition.”