Wichita State volleyball players can look at the rafters and see their next goal. There is an empty spot where they want to place a banner. Or they can look at a vacant space on their hand and think about a championship ring.
The Shockers last won a Missouri Valley Conference title in 2008, meaning no current player has won one. That fact is very much on their mind as they prepare for Friday’s 7 p.m. match at Missouri State. WSU (25-6, 14-3 MVC) can clinch a tie for first with a win in its final regular-season match.
“I’ve been thinking about it all week long,” WSU defensive specialist Jordan Hinkle said. “We want this title. Every day at practice, ‘We want this ring.’”
Friday’s match is especially important for the four seniors. They came to WSU in 2009, the season after it won the MVC title for the fourth time in five seasons. Since then, WSU finished second twice and third twice.
“It’s the seniors’ dream,” senior right-side hitter Sam Sanders said. “We’re going to win Friday because we want to drop another banner in here.”
Missouri State, however, is the hottest team in the MVC. The Bears are on an eight-match win streak and are battling for the No. 3 seed (although not eliminated from the race for second).
“They may have stolen the best balance plus productivity title,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “The Bears, in the second half of the season, have to be considered as good offensively as anybody.”
Right-side Kayla Walton ranks fourth in attack percentage at .334 and outside hitters Olivia Brand and Kaitlin Jaeger both hit better than .200. Senior setter Carly Thomas leads the Valley in assists (11.4 a set).
“They are the only team in the conference where two outside hitters are over .200,” Lamb said. “So you absolutely have the best pin play at Missouri State.”
The Shockers are also finishing strong. They are winners of four straight and five of six. They lead second-place Northern Iowa by percentage points and could also clinch should the Panthers drop one of their two matches this weekend. WSU will finished first or second, giving it a bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament next week at Koch Arena.
WSU recovered from an early November loss at Southern Illinois to regain the conference lead. Since the loss, practices are sharper and players are keeping an eye on each other.
“We’ve been pushing each other a lot more,” Sanders said. “If there’s a free ball and you don’t pass it so well, we hold each other accountable and tell them, ‘Run that wall.’”
Running walls is WSU’s in-practice discipline, one that the players monitor more than the coaches. A sloppy pass or a poor effort on a dig means a player knows she should sprint to the nearest wall and back in the practice gym.
“If your teammates notice that you make a mistake and you don’t run your wall, there’s going to be an issue,” Hinkle said.