Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb watched his summer campers in the Heskett Center and worried about the heat. The gym lacked air-conditioning in those days and he made plenty of time for water breaks.
Even in those conditions, one player stood out. That camp was Lamb’s first look at Sara (Lungren) Walkup, a tall, raw talent from Caldwell who would grow into a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and leader of great Shocker teams.
“It was like 125 degrees in there,” Lamb said. “She was non-stop. Then I watched her play at Caldwell and she was running and diving and trying so hard. I thought, if I can’t do something with this, I should just give up.”
Walkup and former Shocker men’s basketball player Paul Miller will be inducted into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame during halftime of Saturday’s basketball game against Bradley.
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“It’s cool to be recognized for working hard,” Walkup said. “I know the names of people who are in (the hall). I don’t know if I belong in that category.”
Together, Lamb and Walkup kept WSU rising as a volleyball power. She took the baton from his earliest recruiting classes and kept the Shockers atop the MVC. WSU won three conference titles from 2004-2007 and played in the 2004 and 2007 NCAA Tournaments. Walkup, a 6-foot-4 right-side hitter, developed into a six-rotation star who could score, pass and defend with great skill.
“Such a great person, great competitor, hard worker,” Lamb said. “Sara had a lot on her shoulders. Everybody knew we were going to set her the ball. She kind of took on the work of a lot of others.”
Nobody other than Lamb and his coaches expected that from Walkup. No other NCAA Division I school recruited her. She got a few letters from small colleges. She visited WSU, nowhere else, and made her decision. She remembers listening to Lamb, with his feet up on his desk and fidgeting with a pen, talk in metaphors and describe volleyball in ways she couldn’t imagine.
“It was weird, to be honest,” she said. “I didn’t know if this was how all coaches are. It was intimidating.”
Lamb’s energy and his scholarship offered convinced her. She loved that the coaches told her she could be great, even if she didn’t realize it.
“I was just glad somebody wanted me to play,” she said. “God puts us in the right place at the right time. Somehow, Lambo figured out how to mold me into a volleyball player.”
Lungren’s ability to play all six rotations set her apart from other top Shockers. Passing and back-row defense didn’t come easily. Lamb said her freshman year was difficult, because she wanted to be so good and wasn’t quite ready. Soon however, her natural skills and hard work lifted her game. She wached older Shockers such as Sara Younes and Karen Augspurger and learned.
By her senior season, Lamb watched teams such as Texas, Nebraska and Stanford and believed Walkup could play for those powers.
“She became an elite volleyball player,” he said.