Wichita State’s Ashley Andrade missed some open court in her last match, smashed a few volleyballs long or wide.
Everybody noticed, because those errors are so rare for Andrade this season.
“You just have those off nights,” she said. “I definitely hit some out of bounds and I was definitely frustrated with it. I could tell everybody was like, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t you.’ I said, ‘I’m trying; I’m going to fix it, I promise.’”
The fixing won’t take much. Andrade, a senior middle blocker, is continuing a run of top-level play that started in last season’s NCAA Tournament. She is experienced, in great physical shape, confident and working with a superb setter in senior Chelsey Feekin. With all that on her side, Andrade ranks No. 12 nationally with a hitting percentage of .438. With 187 kills and 39 errors in 338 swings, she is one of the busiest players in the top 12.
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“She’s got great eyes and she’s powerful,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “She’s hitting things so quick now that teams just don’t see them. It’s just an all-around mess for people to deal with.”
The Shockers (15-3, 5-0 Missouri Valley Conference) play at Illinois State (12-4, 5-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in a matchup of teams tied for first place. On Saturday, WSU plays at Indiana State (7-9, 1-4).
Andrade, who had knee surgery before coming to WSU and again after the 2010 season, is moving more quickly and jumping higher than in previous seasons. Combine that with five seasons of experience (she redshirted in 2009) and the reduction in hitting errors is a natural. She is on pace to post one of the highest attack percentages in WSU history after hitting .315 as a junior.
“We’ve had five years to get this straight and figure out what we’re good at,” she said. “I was absolutely horrible at shaking off errors last year and previous years. This year, when I mess up I get the next ball and I can’t dwell on that. Gradually, I’m getting smarter with it.”
The direction of the coaches puts her in the best scoring positions, which for Andrade is usually in front of Feekin. Middle Elizabeth Field is most effective playing behind the setter.
“They make up plays for us and we go where we’re told,” Andrade said. “(Assistant coach Jeff Sanders) tells me before every play where I need to go, depending on the blockers. If they’re small on the right side, I’m going to go to my left so I can get up over that block. It’s finally clicked what’s good and I’m going to stick with that until somebody takes it away.”
Illinois State is a new addition to the list of MVC challengers. The Redbirds finished in a tie for fourth last season and haven’t finished higher since 2005. They last won an MVC title in 1997, then gave way to Northern Iowa, WSU, Missouri State and Creighton as the conference powers. Illinois State, like WSU spreads its scoring throughout the lineup. Middle Emily Schneider hit .500 with 22 kills last weekend in wins over Loyola and Bradley. She leads the Redbirds with a .347 attack percentage.
“They’ve got everything they need,” Lamb said. “Talent — it’s there. Experience — it’s there. Balance in their offense — absolutely there.”