Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State’s success behind the setter adds important variety to offense

Wichita State setter Emily Hiebert.
Wichita State setter Emily Hiebert. The Wichita Eagle

For four volleyball matches, Wichita State showed little productivity scoring behind the setter. That changed in Saturday’s sweep of Marquette in what coach Chris Lamb sees as a crucial development.

“We did it more, and we did do it better,” he said. “As that goes, perhaps so go the Shockers.”

WSU (3-2) plays at Colorado State (4-2) at 8 p.m. Thursday to open the Rams Volleyball Classic. On Saturday, WSU plays No. 3 Texas (5-1) before ending the trip against Samford (5-2) on Sunday in a match not affiliated with the classic.

The challenge to scoring on those over-the-head flips are many — setter Emily Hiebert is often setting blind and the pass needs to come in smoothly to get the timing right. The benefits are also many and if WSU’s offense is going to run at a high level, adding that diversity matters.

“I like setting back more than I like setting forward,” Hiebert said. “I feel like I’m more comfortable setting back.”

Against Marquette, the threat of Hiebert finding scorers behind her opened up middle Abbie Lehman by stretching out blockers across the net.

“When the pass is perfect, it’s harder for the blockers because the middle is still an option,” WSU right-side Jody Larson said. “When the pass is off, you’re really only setting the pins.”

It also gave Hiebert more chances to score, another piece of the offense Lamb wants to see more frequently.

“We get more one-on-one blocks,” Larson said. “You didn’t know who was getting the ball, and when they did get the ball they were putting it down.”

The Shockers grabbed an important non-conference win against Marquette with one of its best offensive showings of the season. They hit .280, topped only by a .423 earlier Saturday against IUPUI, and six players recorded five or more kills. Larson had 10 of those and particularly benefited by the success behind the setter.

“She kind of knows where we are,” Larson said. “It’s like a brain-wave.”

Larson and Hiebert played club volleyball together, which they say helps their connection. The repetition and experience helps. So does communication.

“She’ll start getting louder and faster when she needs it quickly,” Hiebert said. “She’ll say ‘pin, pin, pin, pin’ when she wants it fast. She’ll say ‘pin’ for a high, slower one.”

Saturday’s two wins also saw left-side hitter Tabitha Brown break out. She had 13 kills against IUPUI and 11 against Marquette after totaling 13 in the first three matches. Brown played Saturday with a wrap on her hand for the first time this season and Lamb saw a difference in her flexibility and power.

“I could see it in her eyes that she knew she was going to go up there and get a kill,” Hiebert said. “She was being very smart, I think, where to swing. She saw the block.”

Worth noting — Colorado State dropped from No. 25 in the AVCA poll after losses to Pittsburgh and UC Santa Barbara and did not receive votes. WSU is No. 35 with 13 votes. … The Rams were voted the favorite in the Mountain West Conference with middle Alexandra Poletto on the preseason all-conference team. She is hitting .457 with an average of 2.8 kills a set … Texas’ loss is to Nebraska, a sweep in Eugene, Ore. The Shockers last met Texas in the 2008 NCAAs, losing 3-0. … Samford plays in Laramie, Wyo., on Friday and Saturday before traveling to Fort Collins, Colo., for Sunday’s match.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop