Wichita State's previous five-set volleyball loss to Northern Iowa preceded a seven-match winning streak. The Shockers don't need that much this time.
Four or five straight will be fine.
WSU (21-5, 12-4 Missouri Valley Conference) appears to be in a strong position to claim an at-large spot in the 64-team NCAA Tournament field announced Nov. 29. The Shockers can make it a sure thing by winning the MVC Tournament next week in Omaha.
"In the back of our minds we're always thinking about playing UNI in the championship match of the tournament, but we also have many steps before that," senior libero Melissa Granville said.
WSU finishes the regular season with matches at Illinois State (12-15, 7-9) tonight and Indiana State (7-23, 3-13) on Saturday. They enter the weekend tied with Missouri State for the No. 2 seed, which carries a first-round bye in the tournament. MSU can clinch the second seed with two wins against the same opponents, due to tiebreakers.
Rich Kern, who operates a volleyball power-ranking and statistical site, looks at WSU's No. 25 RPI ranking and says the Shockers are in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid. Non-conference wins over Oklahoma (No. 42), North Carolina (No. 53), Rice (No. 59) and Louisville (No. 63) compensate for four MVC losses.
"It was a good non-conference season, so that's not going to eliminate them," Kern said. "No. 25 seems to me like it should be fairly safe."
The Shockers won't assume anything. The scars of 2005, when they went 28-3 and didn't make the tournament, are still visible.
"I'll tell you who's in the tournament after I see the bracket," coach Chris Lamb said.
Lamb's main concern is recovering from Saturday's loss to UNI. The 21st-ranked Panthers ended WSU's two-year run as conference champions.
"The maturity, with our age, is allowing us to bounce back quickly," senior Katie Niggemeyer said. "We absolutely need the tournament and we need to do really well. And we need to face the Panthers again."
Lamb isn't done with lineup changes. He wants to get 6-foot-4 middle blocker Stephanie Tokarz into the rotation and give middle Sarah McGee more touches. Chronic foot pain has limited playing time for Tokarz this season.
"We ran three days of practice with it, and it looks like we can do it," Lamb said. "We're going to try to involve Stephanie Tokarz a lot more and see if she can handle it physically. I want Stephanie, even if her attempts are not real high, she needs to score and she needs to block."
Notes — MSU wraps up the No. 2 seed as long it produces identical or better results than WSU this weekend. WSU can grab the second seed if it wins one more match than the Bears, or if it beats Illinois State and Missouri State loses to Illinois State.... Creighton and Drake have also clinched MVC Tournament spots. Either Illinois State or Southern Illinois will fill out the six-team field. Seeds 2-6 will be decided this weekend.... The NCAA volleyball selection show is at 2 p.m., Nov. 29 on ESPNews.