Emily Hiebert called it “Story time with Matt.”
Wichita State’s volleyball coaches had one season to get Hiebert ready to take over as setter. During practices, assistant coach Matt Hoffman and senior Chelsey Feekin worked on setting techniques and Hiebert joined, with Hoffman tossing ball after ball and the players working on getting their hands and body in the right spot.
“There couldn’t be a better person to learn from — her composure, her decision-making,” Hiebert said. “We were together every day.”
Hiebert, a redshirt freshman from Newton, is taking over at setter for Feekin, one of the WSU’s most-decorated players. The spring schedule is coach Chris Lamb’s time to prepare her to lead a team that also loses powerful middles Ashley Andrade and Elizabeth Field.
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“She’s got amazing range and location (setting) behind her,” Lamb said. “We want to open more things up for her there. She’s an amazing defender and we can give her a lot of defensive responsibilities.”
Hiebert, 5-foot-11, is a better blocker than her height might indicate and her digging and passing skills are sharpened by years of playing many roles. Lamb appreciates her endurance. It’s important that her sets early in practice are the same as in the final minutes in order to develop timing with the hitters.
“You don’t want her running timing plays that are sloppy,” he said. “She goes all day.”
Feekin excelled connecting with her middles and she shared Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year honors with Andrade in 2013. WSU runs more middle attacks, requiring short, immediate sets, than most schools and runs them more quickly, so that is a major practice point with Hiebert.
“Middle trans — it just has to get put in your brain,” Hiebert said. “It’s really hard to get your hips squared up to see your middle hitter and see that they’re up and ready to hit. And it’s so different from high school, because in high school you’re used to setting a high-ball every time.”
Lamb is moving Katie Reilly to the middle to help replace Andrade and Field.
“It what she’s played her whole life,” Lamb said. “She’s always been a talented slide hitter and gets up quick. She’s got middle attacker talent and it’s fun to see her back at it.”
On the outside — Reilly’s move and the departure of senior Sam Sanders opens up needs on the right and left. Lamb is encouraged by the play of Katy Dudzinski, who played a minor role last season after sitting out 2012 with a broken right foot.
“Now I feel like she’s had a year of training under her belt and I can see volleyball stuff starting to happen with her,” Lamb said. “She makes volleyball moves and volleyball plays. Her errors have come way down.”
Starter Ashlyn Driskill is out this spring with a minor knee injury. MaryAshton Floyd and Jenny Whitledge, who redshirted last season, are taking advantage of their opportunities and Lamb needs them to take on bigger scoring roles on the left side.
Whitledge is an excellent all-around athlete, lettering in volleyball, basketball and track at Tonganoxie, She is undersized at 5-9 for the front row.
“She’s kind of a one-in-10-year athlete,” Lamb said. “You just wanted to believe you could make a volleyball player out of her. She’s doing some good stuff.”
Floyd played in 18 matches as a sophomore and 13 as a freshman.
“She just needs to get mentally comfortable,” Lamb said. “The talent is there. The skills is there.”
No worries — On April 4, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reported that Wichita State basketball player Ron Baker decided to return to school and not enter the NBA Draft.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall considered this report unnecessary. Baker never intended to leave WSU after his sophomore season and filed an evaluation form with the NBA as a matter of routine. Marshall planned on building his 2014-15 team with Baker on the roster.
“Consider the source,” Marshall said. “Not the subject of the article, the source that wrote it.”
Baker, a 6-foot-3 guard, moved into NBA consideration after walking on at WSU and redshirting in 2011-12. Last season, he averaged 13.1 points and made 38 percent of his three-pointers.
“I don’t think Ron ever considered it,” Marshall said. “I guess it’s great when our program is to the point where that needs to be out there. But it wasn’t a fire that was put out. It was water that was doused on nothing.”
Marshall realizes the situation may change next spring, after Baker completes his fourth season of college. A key piece of information for any player pondering the draft is the round he is projected to fit. Second-round picks do not receive a guaranteed contract; first-round picks do.
“It’s not that Ron’s not worthy of that consideration, but I don’t think there had ever been any serious conversation about it,” Marshall said. “Now that may change next year.”