For a Wichita State volleyball team that has won all but one set during its current six-match winning streak, a big-match feel in practice this week has been a welcomed change of pace.
First place in the American Athletic Conference will be at stake Friday night at Koch Arena when WSU plays host to Southern Methodist in a battle of conference unbeatens.
Wichita State (14-3, 6-0 AAC) is ranked No. 22 by the AVCA and rated No. 20 in the country in the latest RPI report published by the NCAA, while SMU (12-5, 6-0) is the second-highest rated team in the conference at No. 72.
“We’re really excited to have a big match,” junior Tabitha Brown said. “We haven’t had that in a while, so we’re really excited about this Friday.”
The scouting report shows SMU as a strong defensive team, among the best in the conference. But the Mustangs haven’t seen an offense operating as smoothly as Wichita State’s all season.
The Shockers may have upped their attack another notch over last weekend, as they collected a road sweep over Tulane and Houston by making Brown, usually an outside hitter, a six-rotation player. The move made Brown the centerpiece of WSU’s attack, as she registered a season-high 34 attempts in both matches and delivered 29 kills on a .324 hitting percentage.
“We added to her job description,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “Nothing she hasn’t done before. We’ve been bouncing in and out of something and we went back to that and then put some good things around it. It was a nice piece and made for a nice, smooth transition to a bigger weekend.”
Another key has been a collective effort to increase the tempo of the offense. The Shockers are operating the fastest they have all season with setter Emily Hiebert running the offense.
Wichita State has the best hitting percentage in the AAC at .277 with Abbie Lehman (.367), Emma Wright (.324) and Brown (.290) among the conference’s best.
“It’s always been fast, but now we’re trying to make it even flatter than before,” Brown said.
“We’ve been working on going faster on the go set to the pin to help free her up so she doesn’t have a double block on her as often,” Hiebert added. “Her arm swing is crazy. She’s so powerful and not a lot of girls have that.”
Lamb likes the direction Wichita State is headed, and is looking for his team to stay committed to the tempo for an entire match and not be deterred by a mistake.
“If you can play volleyball faster, then teams are going to be late or at least anticipate late,” Lamb said. “Tabitha’s ball speed is a lot to overcome. You’ve got to get prepared pretty early and if we’re going to play fast, then that’s going to be a lot to overcome.”
A sweep this weekend over SMU and Tulsa on Sunday would be a step closer to winning the conference.
“We’re excited to get an undefeated team in our gym,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to block well, play defense well. We’re going to have to out-dig them for sure because they’re one of the best defensive teams in the conference. For sure put a lot of balls down and just do everything better than they do. It’s going to be really tough, so we’re going to dig deep.”
SMU VOLLEYBALL AT NO. 22 WICHITA STATE
When: Friday at 7 p.m.
Where: Koch Arena
Records: SMU 12-5, 6-0 AAC; WSU 14-3, 6-0
WebcastWSU : GoShockers.com/listen