When healthy, confident and playing on the right side, Wichita State senior volleyball player Sam Sanders can play a major role.
She’s healthy right now and doesn’t wish to tempt fate by talking about injuries too much. After an opening weekend struggling on the left, she is back at her preferred position as a right-side attacker.
That leaves confidence, which might be the most important part of all. The Shockers (5-1) open play in the Comcast Lady Vol Classic with matches against East Tennessee State (9 a.m.) and host Tennessee (6 p.m.) on Friday.
Sanders hit .385 in victories over Utah State, Portland and Fresno State last weekend in Portland, averaging 2.7 kills and earning a spot on the all-tournament team. She helped WSU clinch the Portland Nike Invitational title with 13 kills and a .545 attack percentage in the finale against Fresno State. Against Portland, she recorded 10 kills with a .562 attack percentage.
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“I think Sam needs to see a few shots go in the basket before she feels the confidence,” coach Chris Lamb said. “What I want Sam to know is she’s capable of doing that every night, every set.”
In WSU’s first three matches, Sanders hit .150 with 17 kills.
“I was back to my spot (on the right) and I was comfortable,” she said. “On the right, I get to hit the balls that I’m used to, like my favorite ball is a little, short back-set from behind the setter. I love it.”
Lamb loves it when Sanders, from Rhome, Texas, plays with a fire that makes the most of her physical gifts. She is an excellent leaper with a powerful swing. A year ago, she earned MVP honors at the SMU Classic, giving Lamb an eye-opening look at her potential.
“What’s the ignitor?” Lamb said. “What’s the switch? When she makes a decision to make a physical contribution to the match, she can become a player that our opponents need to prepare for.”
Sanders played in 86 matches in her career, joining the regular rotation as a sophomore. Even with that experience, the minutes before a match are a challenge. When she gets on the court, she takes deep breaths and tells herself she is in the lineup to smack balls to the court, just like in practice.
“I think it’s more mental for me,” she said. “I just have to go out there with confidence and forget about the nerves. Know that I can score, I do it all the time in practice.”
A shoulder injury kept Sanders out of three regular-season matches and one in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last season. Lamb is carefully monitoring her health to keep her in the lineup and productive.
“I feel very healthy, knock on wood,” she said. “I don’t really like talking about it, because I feel like always jinx myself.”
Worth noting — WSU assistant coach Jeff Sanders completed his suspension and will travel with the team to Knoxville, Tenn. Sanders was suspended with pay after being arrested on Aug. 29 of suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, misdemeanor charges. WSU suspended Sanders for the first two tournaments due to conduct detrimental to the athletic program.… East Tennessee State is 4-4. Tennessee is 6-1 with a loss to Butler. Tennessee defeated the Shockers 3-2 last season at Koch Arena.… WSU plays Austin Peay State (2-6) and Virginia Commonwealth (5-1) on Saturday. VCU defeated Illinois State 3-1 and its loss is to then-No. 21 Kentucky.