The first half of the conference schedule didn't go as anybody expected for Wichita State's volleyball team. The second half is also off to an unexpected start, which is really good news for the Shockers.
WSU rolled over Missouri State 3-0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-20) on Friday in front of season's-best crowd of 3,608. The Shockers reversed every negative from a 3-2 loss in Springfield on Sept. 25 and pulled within one match of the second-place Bears.
"That's us," WSU setter Mary Elizabeth Hooper said. "We wanted it, and everything was working."
Without a doubt, the Shockers blocked, attacked and served like a different team than the one that limped out of the Hammons Center four weeks ago.
"The Springfield thing for us — it was really at the wrong time," WSU coach Chris Lamb said. "We were just baling wire and duct tape back then."
WSU (16-4, 7-3 MVC) hit .289 and held the Bears (15-6, 8-2) to a .109 attack percentage.
In the earlier meeting, MSU dented the Shockers for a .289 attack percentage, highest allowed by WSU this season.
Friday, the Shockers recorded 67 digs in three sets. In the earlier meeting, they totaled 72 in five. The Bears, playing without middle Kelly Michnowicz, were held to their lowest attack percentage of the season.
"It all started with blocking," WSU senior Emily Stockman said. "It's easy to read around a block, so when there's solid blocks it's easy for the back row."
Lamb credits that to his team healing up and putting more practice time into defense.
"I know the offense is going to get a lot of credit tonight, but the defense was the key," he said. "You can't pretend with defense. You've got to go hard. And you can't go hard when you're hurt and when you're sick."
WSU's offense deserves its share of the credit.
The Shockers threw a much more balanced offense at MSU, with Hooper leading the way with 43 assists. Stockman led WSU with 16 kills. Middle Sarah McGee added 14 and hit .583 — she hit .171 at MSU. Kim Wadsworth, playing on the left side, contributed nine kills. She came through with several crucial points in the third set to stop rallies.
"We were attacking a lot better," McGee said. "Hooper's sets were amazing, to say the least."
The Shockers badly lost the serving game in the first meeting. Friday, they turned that around as well. WSU served up two aces with a mere five errors. That's 10 fewer errors than in the loss at MSU. MSU recorded one ace — five fewer than in the first meeting.
With all that working, the Shockers led almost the entire match. In the first set, they jumped to a 10-4 lead. The Bears didn't get closer than four points. In the second set, WSU blew open a close game with eight straight points for a 20-10 lead. The Bears put up more of a fight in the final set, pulling to within 21-19 before WSU outscored them 4-1 to end the match.
The Shockers hope Friday's effort is the first of many that will get them back in the race for the MVC title and the NCAA Tournament.
"This was an awesome win for us," Stockman said. "We know that we can't lose again in the Valley."