The practice gym at Koch Arena is filled with busy players and gizmos, just like Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb wants it. The Shockers, coming off another NCAA Tournament appearance, opened practice with two sessions on Monday. Lamb got his first look of the fall at his 20 players.“It definitely didn’t feel like a first day to me,” setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper said. “The first few things with the middles, they were just smashing balls like we had been here forever.”Some tidbits from the first day:
Defense is the early emphasis. Lamb said he looked at recent departures from the program and ranked them among the best diggers at their position in the Missouri Valley Conference. He isn’t sure how many of his current Shockers would rank among the top three in the MVC.” There’s a gap between the top diggers and the bottom diggers (on the team). We graduated, over the last two years, athletes that were in the top third of their position in the conference in the skill of digging. Right now, I don’t know that I can say that about too many. When you look at it like that, maybe there’s some room for improvement here.”The Shockers routinely work on individual digging skills. Monday was a time to get everybody – especially the 11 freshmen (nine redshirts) – on the same page.“Today we were trying to just get really organized in different defenses,” Lamb said. “We tried to get organized within different defensive systems. From there, we will pound in the skills of digging.”Junior libero Sarah Waldorf will be counted on for a good chunk of that defense. She takes over for Melissa Granville.“I learned so much from (former libero) Kelly (Broussard) and Mel,” she said. “But it is so exciting for me to know that the position is mine to lose right now. I’m going to do everything I can to earn it.”Her big task is smoothing out her serve-receive technique. It’s crucial to build a stable platform with the body to take the serve and turn it into a useful pass to start the offense.“I’m very jumpy as an athlete,” she said. “It’s going to be important for me to calm my body down.”
Camri Zwiesler, a transfer from Arizona State, is on Lamb’s list for newcomers who can contribute immediately and play all six rotations. She is a junior from Newton and Lamb recruited her out of high school. “She was physical enough to score, yet she could play all the way around and pass and dig and serve with a high level of skill,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of that come out of this area. I know what she’s capable of. I expect a lot out of her.”With Hooper and redshirt freshman Chelsey Feekin, Lamb loves his depth at setter. “We feel like we can roll out a couple of setters that most programs dream to have,” he said.Hooper is battling overuse injuries in both her lower legs (Lamb declined to be more specific), that may limit her in practice. With Feekin, Lamb can afford to rest Hooper. “Mary Elizabeth is being careful on her leg right now,” Lamb said. “We’ve been asked by doctors if we can slow her down a little bit. Basically, all they’re asking for is normal workload. Hooper was well beyond that. Just can’t do enough. That’s great, right up until the time your body says ‘Not any more.’”Hooper said the first practice went slowly, with Lamb taking time to teach and explain. “With how young we are, fundamentals are huge,” she said. “It wasn’t run, sprint, jump. It was a lot of reps. The basics of getting the brain right, especially on defense.”The Shockers lost five seniors. Those departures open spots for playing time. That process started in the spring and picked up pace Monday. “The competition is just insane,” Hooper said. “The power, the hunger is just thriving out of everyone. There is a lot of tight competition where every single day, every single rep is going to count.”Middle Sarah McGee is one of three seniors on the roster. “I think we’re all ready to start playing,” she said. “We got in here and we were like ‘Let’s scrimmage.’ Everybody seems really hungry and ready to get after it.”WSU will hold a public scrimmage at 4 p.m., Aug. 21 as a prelude to the Volleyball 101 dinner. WSU is also using it as chance to preview a new seating arrangement at Koch Arena. The new in-ground standards for the net will allow WSU to seat fans closer to the court.Senior outside hitter Lindsey Eckenrode, who missed last season with a knee injury, is practicing.Dana Loganbill’s volleyball career is finished, due to a shoulder injury. She will remain with the program as a student assistant.