Since the graduation of back-row mainstays Gabi Mostrom and Hanna Shelton, Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb has been on the hunt for defensive specialists to help the Shockers this season.
After two-plus years of development, Kara Bown, a junior from Lincoln, Neb., has emerged as a viable option for the Shockers on the back row to help support libero Giorgia Civita.
Bown was playing sparingly before, but was thrust into a central role recently and has responded with three straight matches of at least 12 digs and she has increased her production to 2.8 digs per set. This coming from a player who had recorded 85 digs in 109 sets before her promotion.
WSU will likely lean on Bown again in this week’s coming games, as the Shockers (9-11, 4-5 AAC) look to snap a three-match skid when they host Connecticut (11-11, 3-6) at 7 p.m. Friday and Temple (5-16, 2-7) at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“It was definitely a bigger role, but it felt just the same as practice to me,” Bown said. “I get a lot of reps in practice, so it didn’t feel too different. You have to trust your training and know that you’re capable of doing it because we do it every day in practice. So even though it was a bigger role, nothing really changed for me.”
Lamb has previously stated that developing back-row players was a priority for WSU this season. In the meantime, hitters like Tabitha Brown, Alex Koon and Megan Taflinger have been forced to play all the way around in rotations.
The trio is more than capable of doing that, but it certainly helps having a back-row specialist to rotate in to help ease the burden.
“Kara has done a good job of helping the team stick together,” Civita said. “I see her being a leader more. She talks more on the court and is taking on more responsibility. She’s covering more space on the court too, which helps everyone.”
Without an established defensive specialist to help support her this season, Civita’s workload has increased. Even with teams deliberately trying to hit away from her, Civita has increased her digs per set from 5.2 to 5.8 digs per set this season.
Now that Bown is seeing more time on the court, she knows teams are more than likely hitting her way. That could be a scary proposition for a player stepping into her first major role, but Bown sees it more as an opportunity to prove herself.
“You just have to be ready for everything to come your way,” Bown said. “Gio usually takes away her half of the court, so I have to expect everything to come my way and be ready to cover the part of the court she’s not on. It was a little intimidating at first, but (Civita) has helped me with my positioning and that really helped a lot.”