Wichita State volleyball earned six straight NCAA Tournament at-large bids from 2007-12, which demonstrates that the Shockers won and coach Chris Lamb knows how to schedule.
Those schedules brought schools such as Kansas State, Cal Poly, Ohio State, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee to Koch Arena. This season, WSU doesn’t play a non-conference match at home and Lamb is hearing complaints from fans and his administration.
He created a demand. People want to see his team play. His administration likes to sell tickets and keep boosters happy.
It’s not ideal that the Shockers open at home on Sept. 19 and play nine home matches. Lamb sympathizes with the disappointed fans. He, too, wants to play home matches. He won’t schedule them unless they can help his team’s strength of schedule. He is looking for opponents that will win around 20 matches to make the math work in his favor on NCAA selection day.
“Obviously this isn’t the home schedule that fans would have wanted,” he said. “There is a reason for it.”
Lamb views his 10 opportunities to play outside the MVC as assets every bit as important as Emily Stockman or Chelsey Feekin. He could play a tournament at Koch Arena if he were willing to stock it with run-of-the-mill teams. Playing mid-week matches is more difficult. Most teams within a reasonable driving distance, he said, are not interested in playing WSU. Flying means missed class time and strains the budget.
“Every time you put yourself out there for a non-conference match, you are putting yourself in a position to raise or lower your RPI,” he said. “To play lesser teams and beat them lowers your RPI. You need a combination of a tough schedule and a win.”
This season, WSU plays in tournaments at Kentucky, Texas State and Creighton. Creighton came to WSU last season. Next season, Kentucky and Texas State (both 2013 NCAA Tournament teams) will come to Koch Arena for a tournament that will also include Northern Illinois. That give-and-take is how Lamb says he must piece together a strong schedule. Building a strong tournament requires matching dates and opponents willing to play in a strong field. In 2012, Colorado State came to Koch Arena unbeaten and ranked No. 24. It lost matches to WSU, Tennessee and BYU. Not every school wants to sign up for those rigors.
“This is sort of a year when we give something back to get more scheduling done down the road,” Lamb said. “Mid-major coaches that do the math will tell you there are weekends when they almost don’t want to play at all because the competition will hurt you more than help you. In my opinion, far too many coaches, who are frustrated with scheduling, take any home game they can get.”
Lamb is optimistic that the relationship with Creighton will continue. He would like to play the Bluejays home-and-home each season and thinks a similar arrangement with Tulsa makes sense. The series with Oklahoma that helped the Shockers immensely for five seasons is dead, a victim of WSU’s 5-1 record against the Sooners in that span.
Kansas and Kansas State? Not worth discussing.
Help may arrive from the MVC. The conference is considering a proposal to open up a fourth weekend for non-conference tournament play by moving a small number of MVC matches to mid-week. Conferences such as the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Mountain West play four tournaments and don’t hold a conference championship in November.
“It is obvious that we are fighting with a short sword,” Lamb said. “If the conference tournament is so important, then we have to look at ways to open up a fourth weekend, which means we are going to give up other things. It will cost more money. It is absolutely going to affect everybody’s mid-week stuff.”
Burns, a center fielder from Littleton, Colo., entered the weekend hitting .394 to lead the team, with two home runs, nine doubles and 11 steals in 33 games. He hit .381 in Jayhawk League games to lead the league.
“Some guys adjust better than others (after a redshirt year),” Hays manager Frank Leo said. “They don’t get at-bats, and then they’ve got to pick up a wood bat. He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s a good defender, made some phenomenal catches.”
Burns doesn’t consider his redshirt season a lost year. He practiced and did as much extra work in the batting cages as possible. He also learned from WSU’s veterans, soaking up the mental side from players such as Dayne Parker, Micah Green and Garrett Bayliff. In high school, Burns said he would let a bad at-bat bother him for the rest of the game, perhaps affecting his defense. Watching WSU’s seniors taught him how to put it away quickly and evaluate problems after the game.
“It was hard not playing, but it was fun to watch those guys,” he said. “They took us eight freshmen in like we had been there for four years.”
Burns is refining his approach at the plate after being a free-swinger in high school. His job now is to get on base and let other players drive him in. He is widening his stance and choking up on the bat with two strikes.
“In high school I never really learned a role,” he said. “I just got up there and tried to hit the ball out of the park. Here, I want to get on base, steal a base and let the guys behind me hit me in.”
Hays will play in the National Baseball Congress World Series later this week at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Then Burns can switch his focus to fall practices at WSU. The feel will be much different in coach Todd Butler’s second season, with few returning players and 20 or more newcomers.
“When I left Wichita State, I knew I was going to have to be more of a leader than a redshirt freshman might be elsewhere,” Burns said.
His teammates include NBA player Juan Barea. Puerto Rico plays in Group B with the Bahamas, Mexico, Virgin Islands and El Salvador.
Clemente, whose father is from Puerto Rico, played for the national team last summer in the FIBA Americas Championship in Venezuela. He said he believes he has a good chance to make Puerto Rico’s roster for the FIBA World Cup in Spain in late August.
Clemente, a 6-foot-6 forward from Queens, N.Y., led WSU in rebounding in 2008 and 2009 after transferring from Paris (Texas) College.