Chris Lamb has a Rolodex brain —or to modernize just a bit, a Powerpoint presentation between his ears — and he thumbs or clicks through the stored information often.
Wichita State’s uber-successful volleyball coach has had a bunch of good players in 14 years. So many that there is a pained expression on his face as he tries to recollect the great ones from bygone years.
Not so with Chelsey Feekin, however. She’s in the here and now, a superb senior setter who Lamb, after much mind bending, puts in the conversation about the Shockers’ best ever.
“If Team USA was going to use a Wichita State Shocker in an actual game, and as good as I believe several of our players have been over the years, I think Chelsey could do some things at the highest level,” Lamb said. “Without question, she’s in the conversation of best Shockers ever.”
Lamb gushes when he talks about Feekin, a setter in a hitter’s body. She’s great at doing what setters do — pass, dig, organize. But she can also do damage at the net and last season was fourth in the nation in hitting percentage.
There’s nowhere on the floor Feekin doesn’t threaten, which makes assigning her a position a technicality more than anything else. Feekin and the Shockers (9-1) will be making their home debut at 6 p.m. Thursday against Missouri State, then play in the Shocker Classic against South Dakota, No. 7 Hawaii and No. 23 Creighton this weekend.
Feekin is eager to be in front of the home crowd and try to live up to Lamb’s praise.
“Having Lambo say those things about me feels good,” said Feekin, a 6-foot-1 senior from the Omaha suburb of Papillion, Neb., where she was a two-time state champion at La Vista High. “I’ve worked really hard to get here and if he thinks that, it’s because he’s taught me a lot about the game and about setting. But there’s still a lot of season to go. Hopefully he keeps that opinion all year.”
Feekin was a great high school player, the kind Lamb and his staff covet. But when she was a senior at La Vista, Mary Elizabeth Hooper was just getting started as Wichita State’s setter. And Hooper is another player Lamb praises almost uncontrollably.
“We recruited Chelsey at first but we had stopped recruiting her because she didn’t really fit into the time line,” Lamb said.
Feekin wasn’t having any of that, though. She continued to correspond with Shannon Lamb, Chris’ wife and at the time an assistant coach who is now director of volleyball operations. And on her own, she and a friend made the drive to Wichita to meet Chris Lamb.
“She told me she had barely even driven outside of Omaha before,” Lamb said.
Feekin wanted to be at Wichita State and understood she would have to wait her turn. So she redshirted as a freshman in 2009, then played sparingly in 2010 and 2011 when, finally, Hooper graduated.
It was Feekin’s time and she made the most of it, becoming an All-Missouri Valley Conference selection and one of the best setters in the country.
“Even though I wasn’t playing a lot in the fall, I was playing in the spring,” Feekin said. “So I got a lot of experience. Now I can barely even remember those times when I wasn’t playing as much.”
Feekin is bolstered by a supportive family. A big, supportive family that includes her parents, grandparents, an aunt and six siblings — one older sister and brothers ages 6, 10, 13, 16 and 24.
Many show up at WSU’s games, home and away. So even when the Shockers are on the road, Feekin feels at home because so many relatives are there to cheer her on.
“It makes it less like work,” Feekin said. “They always stay at the same hotel that the team is at, so I see a lot of my family for breakfast. That’s really good.”
Feekin said she grew up wanting a younger sister, but that never happened. It was one boy after another joining the family and she learned to adapt.
“I think a lot of my patience comes from having so many brothers,” she said. “My younger brothers, they do drive me crazy at times. But even though I’m a girl, I know my younger brothers look up to me. They wear their Shocker gear to school all the time and my youngest brother, Jacob, is wonderful. He loves coming to games and likes to look at the stats. He does the fake announcing of our lineup and things like that.”
Feekin wants to teach at an elementary school near Omaha and have a big family. She has her life mapped out, much as she knows exactly where to be on the volleyball court at all times.
“I wouldn’t say I’m organized in all facets of my life,” she said. “My room is a mess. But I keep school organized and when you’re playing volleyball at any level, you have to try and keep organized. I try to keep everything structured. I like to have a routine.”
Lamb never has to worry about Feekin. She’s strong in the classroom and, as a scan of his brain indicates, one of the finest players he has coached.
“We know that every night, the team we’re playing is going to have to deal with something they’re not used to dealing with because of Chelsey,” Lamb said. “She brings a lot to the table and she has that ice water running through her veins. She’s unflappable. And she’s also the sweetest, neatest, lowest-maintenance superstar I’ve ever been around. And I just dig it.”