Bob Lutz

September 20, 2011

Bob Lutz: When 600 volleyballs isn't enough

A Wichita State volleyball practice moves along. There isn't much dead time and drills are constant. Coach Chris Lamb's energy cannot be capped and in his world there is no time for slack time.

A Wichita State volleyball practice moves along. There isn't much dead time and drills are constant. Coach Chris Lamb's energy cannot be capped and in his world there is no time for slack time.

To pull it off, Lamb buys volleyballs. Around 100 every year, he said, at a special Labor Day sale price of $22 each.

Over the course of time, volleyballs accumulate. Lamb is in his 12th season at WSU. One day he looked up and noticed he had hundreds of volleyballs.

"We have over 600,'' he said after asking an assistant coach for the specific count. "But you should see the ball bin we built.''

The bin is in a big closet in Koch Arena's multi-purpose center, where there are three volleyball courts on which to practice. It's in that bin — which Lamb built in the driveway of his house — that the volleyballs are stored every night after practice. And before every practice, team managers open the bin and balls drop from the storage unit into the dozens of carts that are used to hold them while the Shockers practice.

Each bin holds upwards of 30 balls and there are sometimes a dozen or more bins in use.

Pity the poor team managers who have to deal with the balls.

"I was actually thinking about this the other day — just how many balls I've picked up and put away in the past couple of months,'' freshman manager Taylor Zwiesler said.

When an errant volleyball ricochets into some nether region of a practice facility, Zwiesler is usually the one who has to retrieve it and drop it into the closest cart. When you have 500-or-so balls going at any particular practice, there can be a lot of ricocheting.

Dana Loganbill, a junior who took a career-ending medical hardship last year, is now a student coach. And, like everyone else who isn't a player or coach, she's an A-No. 1 ball retriever.

"I deal with these balls every day,'' she said. "(Lamb) has a bunch of creative drills so it helps to have a bunch of volleyballs out and ready. It's a two- or three-person operation just to take care of the balls.''

Getting them to practice is the easy part. But making sure all the balls are accounted for after practice, then stored inside the 6- to 8-foot bin, can be a chore.

To do so, managers and players, who often help to cut down the amount of time the process takes, toss each ball up and over a 10-foot high wall. Sometimes they miss and have to chase down a volleyball and try again. Sometimes they lose focus and start getting silly and it takes longer than it should to put the balls away.

Shannon Lamb, Chris's wife and the director of volleyball operations, said she has seen high school programs operate with as few as 12 volleyballs.

"At the college level it's normally 100 or 200, maybe 300,'' she said. "A lower-level college program might have just 100 balls because they just don't have the equipment to store more than that. But there are no high schools that have enough volleyballs. It just doesn't happen.''

Unfortunately, volleyballs have an expiration date. Sometimes they go bad.

"That's why we need this many,'' Chris Lamb said. "They wear out with use. They just start getting a little rough on the edges and the panels start peeling off a little bit.''

When that happens, a volleyball is put out to pasture. I assume all the other volleyballs throw it a little party before it leaves.

But it isn't long until a new volleyball is in its place, ready to be served, dug and killed for as long as it can withstand the abuse.

The Shockers have white volleyballs, black and white volleyballs and blue, silver and white volleyballs used for matches.

"We have to have at least 40 of those available for our conference opponents to practice with when they come here,'' Lamb said.

He doesn't give much thought to the sea of balls that accompanies every Wichita State practice. For Lamb, they're a necessity and he would struggle to run a practice without them.

"I know most volleyball programs don't have 600-plus balls,'' Lamb said. "But we have a three-court practice facility and if you don't have balls you spend a lot more time shagging.''

That's time that's wasted, Lamb believes. Better to have the balls flying all over the place, as long as you have the people to go pick them up.

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