Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb likes how the math looks for his team after four weekends of non-conference play.
The Shockers are 10-3 in non-conference matches with one remaining. While they can’t claim a marquee win, the three losses are to teams currently ranked — No. 23 Creighton, No. 16 Arizona State and No. 6 Hawaii. Wins over teams such as Utah State (9-4) and Virginia Commonwealth (10-4) may turn into useful resume-builders by December.
In all, Lamb likes the work his team did in building a case for an NCAA Tournament at-large spot, should it be needed.
“This is everything; it’s the No. 1 ingredient into the cake or whatever the desert that you’re making that you call your schedule,” Lamb said. “Our opponents’ success should climb in the next nine weeks.”
By his calculations, WSU’s power ranking (RPI) sits in the low 30s, a status boosted by around 20 spots over the weekend. He figures eight of the opponents will improve their winning percentage by the end of the season and two (Creighton and Hawaii) will stay close to the same. WSU’s opponent’s winning percentage is at 53 percent and Lamb believes it will rise past 60 by season’s end.
If it plays out that way and if WSU does well in Missouri Valley Conference play, the Shockers can count on a spot in the 64-team field.
“The Shockers have to do their work; we’ve got to do our work at home,” he said. “The key is what happens in the non-conference. You want your non-con (opponents) to win.”
WSU’s remaining non-conference opponent is Louisville, a team that went 30-4 last season and hosted an NCAA regional. The Cardinals are 4-6 with a loss to Northern Iowa.
WSU, however, cannot count on a big boost during MVC play. Creighton’s departure to the Big East is damaging.
No MVC team is ranked, or receiving votes, and four schools posted losing non-conference records. It is 0-5 against the Big 12, 0-3 against the Big Ten and 7-14 against 2013 NCAA teams. MVC teams are 2-5 against teams ranked at match time, but both Dayton and Louisville are absent from the current rankings.
“It’s not helping,” Lamb said.
WSU, 1-0 in MVC play, plays at UNI on Friday and at Drake on Saturday.
That is an encouraging sign for a team that struggled with its pitching the past two seasons. Coach Kristi Bredbenner likes her staff’s depth and their variety. Senior Sloan Anderson is back and is joined by three freshmen.
“Those three (freshmen) are all completely different and you throw all three of them in one game against a team and they’re going to have to make an adjustment with every single one,” Bredbenner said.
Freshman Kaitlyn Malone no-hit Pratt in the first game, allowing one walk over five innings. She has technique issues to work on and Bredbenner wanted the umpire to call illegal pitches. Malone kept her composure.
“It was a big confidence-booster for her,” Bredbenner said. “It was nice to see her face a little adversity and not get rattled. She showed a lot of maturity.”
Bredbenner also likes how Anderson responded to the challenge from the new arms. Anderson went 12-11 last season with a 4.18 ERA.
“The fact we’ve got three freshmen coming in pushed her a little bit,” Bredbenner said. “She’s been much more of a leader than she has been in the past, and that’s been a welcome change.”
On Saturday, WSU scrimmages Crowder (Mo.) College at 11 a.m. and Pittsburg State at 1 p.m. at Wilkins Stadium.
The WSU women won the Woody Greeno Invitational on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., finishing ahead of No. 9 Kansas State, which moved up a spot in the regional rankings after finishing third behind WSU and Nebraska-Kearney. While the Wildcats were missing a top runner, Hunter said he believes WSU’s performance deserved more credit.
WSU placed four runners in the top 10 in a meet that featured Nebraska and Northern Iowa in addition to several small colleges.
“I don’t believe we should be ranked ahead of K-State — that’s not what I’m saying,” Hunter said. “We’re worthy of a top-15 ranking — I definitely believe that.”
The Shockers will take a small squad to Friday’s Emporia State Invitational. Its top runners will compete in the Bill Dellinger Invitational, hosted by Oregon, on Oct. 5 in Springfield, Ore.