The whole night felt bizarre to Megan Taflinger.
It began when the announcer belted out her name in the starting lineup of Wichita State’s opener at Koch Arena and peaked when coach Chris Lamb, a volleyball savant, went out of his way to call her a future star after the Shockers’ victory.
This was all so strange to Taflinger, because if you would have asked her before her senior year of high school where she would be in three years, she would have told you her volleyball career would be over and she was an engineering major in college.
Now Taflinger, as a redshirt freshman, is a starting outside hitter in a WSU program that has played in the NCAA Tournament 10 of the last 11 years. Not only that, but Taflinger leads the Shockers (7-6, 2-0 AAC) in points and kills entering Saturday’s match at Tulsa (10-4, 2-0).
Some days Taflinger knew something like this was possible, but there are still days when she has to catch herself wondering how she got here.
“It’s still all so surreal,” Taflinger said. “It’s honestly hard to explain.”
Five teams in four years
Taflinger comes from a small city outside of Los Angeles named Leona Valley, population 1,607. As Lamb puts it, “she wasn’t really connected to the outside volleyball world.”
That explains why Taflinger bounced around five different club teams in four years “trying to find a club that could help find a college that would take me.”
Nothing worked. Going into her last year of high school, Taflinger’s best offer was from a Division II liberal arts school.
“I remember having a conversation with my parents and I was really upset because I didn’t think I was going to get to play volleyball in college,” Taflinger said. “If I had not been seen by WSU, I would have probably just gone to college as a student to be an engineer.”
As luck would have it, a college coach noticed Taflinger at a UCLA camp at the end of the summer and passed along the word to WSU coaches. It didn’t take long for Lamb to become convinced of Taflinger’s talent.
“It was obvious that Megan was fast off the floor and had an electric arm,” Lamb said. “She keeps the contact high and hitting balls deep is easy for her. You don’t see that stuff everywhere.”
Don’t think just because Taflinger continued her volleyball career that she gave up her aspirations as an engineer. In fact, now she is a double major at WSU in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering.
All she wanted was a chance to keep playing volleyball and WSU has granted that wish.
“I’ve always been told my coaches that I should be able to play at a Division I level,” Taflinger said. “Whether that was for a 16th-ranked team or a 160th-ranked team, I didn’t know. But I always felt that if I just got a chance and I tried my best and put everything into it, then I would be able to help whatever team I was on.”
Grooming a future star
To those outside of the program, Taflinger seems like a breakout star.
In WSU’s first two conference matches, Taflinger is registering four kills per set. On the season, she’s putting balls down on nearly 40 percent of her swings. Against Tulane, Taflinger logged a career-high 13 digs.
Those are numbers Lamb would want from a veteran hitter. This is just Taflinger’s starting point.
“Every day that goes by that Megan is a six-rotation player, you’re just grooming a future star at Wichita State and those are hard to come by,” Lamb said.
Hearing that at a press conference was stunning to Taflinger, but it instilled confidence in her.
She came to WSU optimistic she could eventually make an impact. Now she’s beginning to realize she can become Lamb’s next great outside hitter.
“I think there’s a little part of every player that wants to be that superstar player,” Taflinger said. “I just have to keep working really hard and pushing and striving to be that kind of player, the kind of player that the setters want to go to.”
In her first season playing, Taflinger has already earned the trust from senior setter Kali Eaken. The two connected a season-high 15 times in a sweep over Memphis and 21 percent of Eaken’s assists on the season have gone to Taflinger.
“I always know I can set her and she’s going to take a rip at it,” Eaken said. “She’s not going to just fluff it over. That makes my job easier when I know I can give her the ball.”
Teammate Alex Koon, also an outside, marvels at Taflinger’s success in the air despite standing just 6-foot tall.
“She may not be the tallest, but when she gets up in the air she’s the tallest,” Koon said.
To everyone else, Taflinger’s success comes as no surprise. They recognized her talent early on.
Sometimes it feels that way to Taflinger herself, but most days she’s just happy to be here: a double major who is able to keep playing the sport she loves.
“I didn’t think any of this was possible my senior year,” Taflinger said. “But to be here and to see it actually come to life has been so amazing.”