It’s been a while since the Wichita State volleyball team went through adversity in conference season.
Last year the Shockers went 20-0 in their inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference. So that means it has been since October 2016, when WSU lost back-to-back home matches in the Missouri Valley Conference, that WSU has felt like this (and that season WSU ended the year with nine straight wins to capture the title).
Coach Chris Lamb hopes some sort of similar rally is in these Shockers, who are 3-2 in AAC play heading into this weekend, when they play two teams ahead of them in the standings at home: East Carolina (12-4, 4-1 AAC) on Friday night and Cincinnati (15-4, 6-0) on Sunday afternoon.
WSU has played in the NCAA Tournament 10 of the last 11 seasons and while the Shockers still could log another appearance, Lamb says things have to change starting this weekend.
“I feel like there’s a bit of a glazed look when it comes to meeting expectation,” Lamb said. “I’m not used to having to feel like I have to search for more ways to motivate. Typically our job once the team is set is to train and teach. Lately, it feels like it’s more about trying to make sure everybody knows they need to meet everybody halfway.
“There’s too few people out there right now doing too much work. Everybody has to help push the boulder up the hill. We need everybody to make it work, not just four or five.”
Errors have continued to pile up in WSU’s offense. In two conference losses to Tulsa and Central Florida, the Shockers are committing 6.6 attacking errors per set and the team has a combined hitting percentage of .201. WSU was also being out-blocked 27-13.
“It’s a wake-up call, for sure, and a slight punch in the pace,” WSU senior Tabitha Brown said. “But I’m glad that no one is hanging their heads over it. Everybody is focused. We know this isn’t the easiest job, but it’s a very fun process being able to get better.”
WSU is transitioning to nearly an entirely new rotation and the players who aren’t brand new are transitioning into new leadership roles on a team with only two seniors.
Lamb said the Shockers have progressed in certain areas, but all-out effort has been spotty. Junior Alex Koon said this season has been a learning experience for all players.
“Last year we had so many seniors and they were all so talented and they were very comfortable and confident and knew exactly what they were doing,” Koon said. “Now we have a lot of people who have never done our plays before. It’s a lot of learning. We maybe have to slow things down and explain things more thoroughly now and get those reps to make them feel comfortable.”
Now WSU finds itself in a near must-win situation this weekend. Not only to stay within striking distance of potentially winning the AAC title, but also of a potential at-large NCAA bid.
According to RealTimeRPI.com, WSU’s RPI sits at No. 34 entering the weekend, which should be in range to earn an at-large bid. But the Shockers don’t have a top-50 RPI win yet, something they could pick up on Sunday with a win over No. 43 Cincinnati.
“It’s crucial,” Brown said. “This is going to be one of our biggest weekends of the season to be able to make the NCAA Tournament. Even though we played a great nonconference, I don’t think that’s going to hold us up if we continue to lose.”
“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re happy we get them at home first,” Koon added. “They’re both really good, but they’re not unbeatable.”