TCU director of volleyball Jill Kramer met Chris Lamb when she coached club volleyball in San Antonio. All coaches want to talk about recruiting club players. Then there’s Lamb, who will talk about everything related to volleyball.
That was roughly 10 years ago and Kramer remembers Lamb’s enthusiasm well. She can also draw a line from those experiences to how Lamb’s Wichita State teams plays.
“He was recruiting a ton of my players,” she said. “He wasn’t just talking about Wichita State. We talked drills and how to help my players improve. He’s somebody that, for someone like me moving through the coaching ranks, I used as an example of how to do things.”
Lamb didn’t sign any of those players. He did enjoy his talks with Kramer.
“She definitely grinded it out in club volleyball,” he said.
TCU (14-12) plays Wichita State (24-7) on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Lincoln, Neb. After watching the Shockers play several different systems this season, Kramer is prepared for the unexpected.
“He’s always learning something new,” she said. “My thought is that radiates into his team. They always try to keep you guessing. There’s a lot of teams that do the same thing all the time.”
The Horned Frogs are making their second straight NCAA appearance, and third in program history, after a roller-coast regular season. They earned an at-large berth, despite their unimposing record, with a power ranking (RPI) of No. 20, fueled by the nation’s No. 2 strength of schedule.
“There’s several ways you can build an RPI, and most of us respect those of us who go out there and try to play the tough teams,” Lamb said. “They went for it and they’re battle-tested.”
TCU went 7-3 in non-conference play and 7-9 in the Big 12. They endured a seven-match losing streak in the Big 12, four of those to national seeds Texas, Kansas and Kansas State.
“It’s not easy to do, but I think we learned a lot about ourselves,” Kramer said. “It really tested our team’s culture.”
Lamb noticed as he tracked possible at-large teams. The Frogs needed to finish above .500 and won four of their final five matches, including a sweep of Kansas State, to do so.
TCU uses a 6-2 offense and setters Lamprini Konstantinidou and Kaylee Smith spread the scoring around. Seven players total between 147 and 204 kills. Senior middle Natalie Gower, an All-Big 12 selection, hits .366 and averages 1.96 kills.
“Physical players,” Lamb said. “That team’s been playing with a lot of pressure on it. All that stuff speaks to the character of the team.”
Injuries and changing roles played a part in TCU’s struggles. Senior Ashley Smith, a 2015 honorable mention All-American, is playing regularly at outside hitter after recovering from knee surgery. Jillian Bergeson moved from outside hitter to libero in early November.
“The last seven matches or so, our defense has really taken a step up,” Kramer said. “We’ve had a lot of pieces we’ve moved around.”
Raudsepp’s injury ends practice — WSU outside hitter Mikaela Raudsepp left practice on crutches, holding her left leg aloft.
Lamb is optimistic that the injury is not serious, perhaps a cramp.
“I walked in and they said maybe a muscle tightened up,” Lamb said. “We’ve got three days (before the match).”
Raudsepp fell to the floor during a drill, after which coaches ended practice a few minutes earlier than scheduled.
Devaney Sports Center
Wichita State (24-7) vs. TCU (14-12), 4:30 p.m.
Nebraska (27-2) vs. New Hampshire (21-10), 7 p.m.
Friday’s winners, 7 p.m.
▪ All matches streamed free at Huskers.com. Also available at BTN2GO.com for viewers whose cable package includes the Big Ten Network.