Ashley Andrade didn't choose to be pushed into a larger role for the Wichita State volleyball team. It's the biggest moment of the season, and there is no getting around it.
The situation doesn't seem to bother Andrade, a redshirt freshman from Glendale, Ariz. With senior middle blocker Sarah McGee sidelined with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, Andrade is part of WSU's rotation as it begins NCAA Tournament play tonight at Oklahoma.
"Many, many athletes have had the door suddenly open for them," coach Chris Lamb said. "She, so far, seems to be comfortable out there. She's very steady Eddie. You don't see her get overly excited or overly emotional, either way."
Andrade played a small role for the most of the season. That changed when McGee, an All-Missouri Valley Conference pick, went down during the last weekend of the regular season. Andrade recorded eight kills and a .438 attack percentage against Bradley in her most extended playing time of the season. In the MVC Tournament, she had seven kills, three solo blocks and six assists in a loss to Creighton.
"I'm working twice as hard and paying attention," Andrade said. "Work ethic is the strongest thing right now. I'm trying to get out there and accomplish things for the team."
McGee moved into a coaching role now that she wears a black brace on her knee. She offers advice on how opponents are blocking Andrade and what spaces may be open for different shots.
"She tells me where to hit, where to block," Andrade said. "She knows everything, pretty much. It takes a little of the nerves out when she's there to help me."
McGee considered Andrade a worthy starter all season. Now that she is in that role, Andrade is showing her talents. Lamb will keep things simple for her. She can score on quick sets and owns a knack for blocking.
"She's the fastest middle I've ever set," junior Mary Elizabeth Hooper said. "Sometimes I don't even feel myself with the ball, she takes it out of my hand so fast. The ball is already on the ground and the other side middle is just jumping."
That quickness and power is a product of rehab after Andrade tore the medial collateral ligament in her left knee as a senior at Northwest Christian. She didn't need surgery and spent her redshirt season at WSU strengthening the knee.
"It definitely hindered (hitting) slides, which is pretty much what I was recruited for, was to do slides," she said. "Last year was a lot of rebuilding, and a lot of training."
By last spring, Andrade began to feel her bounce returning.
"Midway through this season, we saw the kind of athlete that we thought we were going to see," Lamb said. "She always had the arm. She's obviously learning more skill."
Andrade did not play in the Aug. 27 meeting against Oklahoma, a match the Shockers swept 25-20, 25-21, 25-19. Both teams are different from that season-opening match at McCasland Field House.
The Sooners (21-10) finished fourth in the Big 12, with seven losses to teams ranked in the top 25 of the RPI. They swept Missouri, an NCAA team, and split with Iowa State.
OU middle blocker Sallie McLaurin was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Setter Brianne Barker and outside hitter Suzy Boulavsky were named to the All-Big 12 team.
"Their numbers in their second half of conference play are dramatically better," Lamb said. "They're much better."