Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State volleyball takes first steps into AAC travel plans

Wichita State coach Chris Lamb.
Wichita State coach Chris Lamb. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State sends volleyball coach Chris Lamb to explore the American Athletic Conference and report back.

Tips on airports, hotels, restaurants and locker rooms are welcome. The Shockers play at Temple, in Philadelphia, on Sept 22 in the school’s first AAC competition.

“Lambo will be the guinea pig on how everything goes,” softball coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “Their traveling party is pretty similar to ours.”

Lamb has plenty of questions of his own. He spent 17 seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, where he won 71.5 percent of his matches and six regular-season titles. All that institutional knowledge and statistical trends that prepare his team for Missouri State and Northern Iowa are history.

“I know how the Valley plays volleyball,” Lamb said. “I want to know what I’m going to find out when I get over there. I know it’s going to be different.”

MVC volleyball is no pushover. It owns more NCAA success (with WSU contributing) than the American in recent seasons. Since 2013, the MVC is 2-8 in NCAA play with five at-large spots. Since 2013, the American is 1-5 with one at-large bid. SMU defeated Texas A&M this season for the AAC’s first win and Cincinnati earned the conference’s first at-large spot.

While the MVC is comparable at the top of the standings, the American is deeper. Eight of its 11 schools ranked in the top 150 of the RPI in 2016 with No. 245 Houston the lone team below 200. Four schools — No. 185 Drake, No. 229 Indiana State, No. 254 Evansville and No. 266 Bradley — weighed down the Valley.

The Shockers, 24-8 with an NCAA Tournament loss to TCU, return All-MVC setter Emily Hiebert, All-MVC middle Abbie Lehman. They possess the talent and experience to enter 2017 as one of the favorites. Their experience against AAC schools is limited to a 3-1 loss to Cincinnati in 2016 in Koch Arena.

“We’re going to have to get a feel for the best way for us to operate in that landscape,” Lamb said. “From all I’ve heard from volleyball people is that the bottom of the conference is better.”

Lamb is pleased that he can leave behind the conference tournament. The AAC plays a 20-game schedule with travel partners. He prefers building an NCAA resume through the season and avoiding the possibility of upsets in a tournament.

“Anybody thinks it’s awesome when a team with a losing record wins a conference tournament and goes, I would say you’ve never walked in our shoes,” he said. “The NCAA Tournament, to me, should be for people who had great seasons.”

Because of those two extra matches, Lamb must alter his non-conference schedule. He is allowed to play matches on eight days, so WSU cannot play over three days at tournaments at Lipscomb and Oregon next fall. WSU will play the same number of matches, in fewer days.

“Now I have to get those guys to reschedule because those tournaments, for us, have to be done in two days,” Lamb said. “I don’t have room to spread it out.”

Sad farewell to St. Anthony’s — St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J. will close in June, ending its run as one of the nation’s most prominent high school basketball powers.

Coach Bob Hurley won four national title and 28 state titles before rising costs and dwindling enrollment forced the school to suspend operations earlier this month. Wichita State sophomore Markis McDuffie won a state championship and finished second twice during his four seasons with Hurley.

“He did so much for me,” McDuffie said. “It was more than just basketball. I was around so many people, amazing students, amazing staff that wanted me to be successful. Every time I walked into that building it was a joy.”

McDuffie didn’t know much about the school until eighth grade. Then he met Hurley and learned about St. Anthony’s tradition.

“It’s heartbreaking that Coach Hurley has to go through this,” he said. “I just want to thank him and wish him the best of luck.”

New home for Hamilton — Sophomore Eric Hamilton decided to leave Wichita State in late March. He said he isn’t close to deciding on a new school and won’t take any visits until the end of April.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-8 forward from Atlanta, did say his search for more playing time might lead him closer to home.

“I need to explore something different to further my career,” he said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for everything the (WSU) coaching staff did for me. I told Coach (Gregg) Marshall that.”

He played in 47 games and averaged 2.2 points and 1.5 rebounds in two seasons. He continues to practice and lift weights with the team this spring.

“I’ll never forget my friends here,” he said. “My teammates have been some of the best relationships of my life.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop