Wichita State volleyball’s biggest question entering the season has been answered in a positive way. The Shockers are tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference in part because of their defense and passing.
“We’ve really handled the serve-and-pass game better than I was expecting,” coach Chris Lamb said. “These guys have been taking care of the ball at a pretty good level.”
The Shockers (19-4, 8-1 MVC) play last-place Drake (2-19, 0-9) on Friday and third-place Northern Iowa (15-6, 7-2) on Saturday.
Their serve-and-pass game is solid even without defensive specialist Gaby Urban, who is out at least four weeks with a broken hand. With Urban out, sophomore left Katie Reilly is playing all six rotations and performing well in the back row. Against Louisville, Reilly recorded a career-high 17 digs and she followed that with eight against Bradley and seven against Loyola.
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“I love being on the court and, sometimes, knowing that you won’t come off, you play with more authority and more relaxed,” Reilly said. “Front row, you can just hit. I’m more aware of what’s completely going on, all components.”
WSU played with this lineup often in the spring. Early in the season, Lamb tried, without success, to find a six-rotation player. Given the opportunity, Reilly is handling the passing and digging duties effectively.
“This is her first year on the court all the time and she had a huge role to fill,” setter Chelsey Feekin said. “These last couple weekends, when she’s been playing all the way around, I think that helps you get in a rhythm. You’re much more engaged.”
The Shockers, tied with Illinois State for first, play a favorable schedule in the second half. They get Northern Iowa at home and Illinois State visits Koch Arena on Nov. 9. Lamb can lean on four seniors to help his team through the grind that comes before postseason play.
“The weather starts changing, girls get tired,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of volleyball in front of us and I hope we keep fighting.”
WSU played one of its better offensive matches in its 3-1 win at Northern Iowa on Sept. 27. After losing the first set 25-21 and hitting .128, the Shockers won the next three sets 25-21, 25-20, 25-15, hitting .452, .351 and .515. Middle Ashley Andrade finished with 18 kills and hit .708 and Reilly added 14 kills. Middle Elizabeth Field added seven kills on 15 swings and Feekin says getting the ball to the middles in good positions will be important in the rematch.
“If we get them the ball, I’m not worried about the outcome,” Feekin said. “They’re so powerful and quick. That’s what happened in our loss (to Illinois State), was that we couldn’t get them in the game. If they’re on, we’re on.”