Wichita State’s volleyball team started two-a-day practices with one senior and 13 freshmen on Thursday morning.
That roster composition will demand patience from everybody — coach Chris Lamb and his returning players. With one starter (Katie Reilly) back, the plan for the early days of practice features a lot of basics.
“Practices definitely go a little bit slower,” junior outside hitter Ashlyn Driskill said. “They’re all learning what to do, so it takes patience to get it back to where it was.”
During Thursday’s afternoon session, Lamb stopped play and told the team he was growing angry with players failing to get to the right spots. A few minutes later, practice stopped so he could get the right number of passers and hitters on the court. Twice, the team did pushups as punishment for mistakes.
Those scenes are rare most seasons, when Lamb’s practices flow smoothly and experienced players allow him to instruct quickly and run drills out of habit. Even with Lamb stopping to define and explain, the Shockers scrimmaged almost the entire final hour of practice, which showed Reilly the new players learned quickly.
“A lot of them don’t know our lingo, so we had to go over that,” Reilly said. “I was actually surprised we played as much as we did, and it was very competitive. Lambo, he likes to be very long-winded sometimes and he likes to explain all of our lingo. He explained, but he explained well, and to the point. They caught on to it well.”
WSU’s lone senior is middle Kristin Byers, who redshirted in 2012 after transferring and played in four sets last season. Reilly, who is moving from the left to the middle, and Driskill are the only attackers with significant starting experience; liberos Gaby Urban and Dani Mostrom played large roles last season. WSU, the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion, must replace MVC co-Players of the Year setter Chelsey Feekin and middle Ashley Andrade, as well as middle Elizabeth Field and right-side Sam Sanders.
Libero Jordan Hinkle, who started 26 matches, and middle Hannah Eakin elected to skip their senior seasons because they graduated in the spring. Both went through spring practices with WSU before deciding to quit volleyball this summer. Four of WSU’s freshmen redshirted last season and two of the nine newcomers (liberos Hanna Shelton and Gabi Mostrom) graduated high school in December and practiced with WSU in the spring.
WSU is also breaking in a new assistant coach. Lamb hired Sean Carter from The Masters (Calif.) College to replace Jeff Sanders.
“Today was a lot about teaching freshmen our language,” Lamb said. “We didn’t teach a skill today at all, not a block or a serve. We said ‘These are the systems that we use, these are the packages that we use. Let’s get out there and get you comfortable in it. Once we know those, then we’ll start teaching the skills.’”
Even through all the newness, Lamb witnessed plenty of good moments. He clapped and yelled “I love it” and pumped his arms when junior Mary Ashton Floyd scored from the back row. He gave freshman Mikaela Raudsepp a high-five after she made a hustling dig over her head. He told radio announcer Mike Kennedy that freshman setter McKenzie Fyfe possesses magic hands.
“I loved today,” Lamb said. “My old players are great people and they are very welcoming. I didn’t notice any kind of tension. The young people played hard and recognized the things that they don’t get.”
Driskill returned to practices after sitting out the spring. She underwent surgery on her left knee to relieve irritation on the tendon below her kneecap and is fully recovered. Her 261 kills are the most by any returner. She averaged 2.14 kills a set and recorded a hitting percentage of .165.
“They went in and cleaned it up,” she said. “It’s way better, that’s for sure.”
Worth noting — The Shockers, 28-7 last season, open the season on Aug. 29 against Kentucky in the Bluegrass Battle in Lexington … WSU is one of 136 NCAA Division I programs to earn an Academic Award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The Shockers compiled a grade-point average of 3.56 in 2013 to earn the honor for the 11th consecutive season. Every MVC school except Drake joined WSU on the list.