Wichita State Shockers

Shockers serve with a purpose

The volleyball floats into the net and the crowd groans.

Service error. Missed opportunity.

Or is it the cost of doing business?

Wichita State is weighing the risk-reward ratio of good serving on a match-by-match basis. The Shockers play at Creighton (5-9, 2-2 Missouri Valley Conference) tonight and at Drake (11-5, 2-2) on Saturday.

Coach Chris Lamb doesn't want too many service errors. He also doesn't want to give the other team an easy start to their offense by serving soft.

"You want to make them scramble on the court so they're out of system," WSU sophomore Sarah Waldorf said. "When we do scouting reports, there are certain people on the offensive team that we are trying to serve. It's not like we're just trying to get the ball over the net. There's a little more to it."

"Serving tough" is WSU's mantra. Success or failure is measured in the difference between a ball just clearing the net or not, or sinking at just the right moment to put the opposition off balance.

"If we serve their outside player, often times they won't set her," Waldorf said.

WSU (11-2, 2-1) has experienced both sides of the serving issue. North Carolina coach Joe Sagula said WSU's aggressive serves made the difference in a Shocker 3-1 victory earlier this season. WSU recorded six aces with 12 errors. More important, the Shockers took North Carolina's middle blockers out of the match with serves that messed up its attack.

Friday, WSU's service game flopped in a 3-2 loss at Missouri State. The Shockers committed 15 errors and had one ace.

That effort notwithstanding, players believe they are a better serving team than a year ago. With 76 aces and 134, they are ahead of last season's pace in both categories. Their average of 1.7 aces a set is better than last season's average of 1.1.

Experience and emphasis are the keys. Every key server on the roster is a year older. Lamb made serving a priority, starting last spring.

"I think we serve tougher," senior Melissa Granville said. "I think sometimes the public thinks that we're a lesser serving team because we miss more serves, but we're also getting them out of system like 60 percent of the time."

Some serves rely on a leap and a powerful swing. Others rely on more spin and movement — Granville knows the air valve is the heaviest part of the volleyball. She puts it down in hopes of making the ball drop when it clears the net. Granville and Waldorf hit floaters, requiring their hand to act like a board to send the ball waving and dancing.

"You want to make it as hard and flat as possible," Granville said.

Lamb is willing to live with a certain amount of service errors to build a tougher serving team. He realizes the Shockers may keep weaker teams in sets with errors. His hopes is that accurate and aggressive serving will help in NCAA Tournament play. The Shockers are missing at a higher rate, but also scoring at a higher rate than 2008.

"To beat a better team, you're going to have to serve better," he said. "You can tell, when you start playing the top teams — they laugh at you if you don't serve tough. You feel if you're not back there serving tough, they just bat it down your throat."