The Wichita State volleyball team completed its regular season with a losing record for the first time since 2001, but the Shockers will still play in the postseason.
With a RPI of 86 and a top-10 strength of schedule, WSU (13-17) received an at-large bid in the 32-team field of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship and will play Central Arkansas (26-6) in the opening round on at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Denton, Texas, hosted by North Texas.
The NIVC is the volleyball equivalent to the National Invitational Tournament in basketball and is in its second year as a postseason tournament after a 22-year hiatus.
“Our RPI was one of the highest remaining from the teams that didn’t make it to the NCAA,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “We had one of the toughest strengths of schedules and our RPI was high, so those are some of the top factors. I think that’s how it should be. You shouldn’t get credit for beating teams on your schedule that anyone can beat. We scheduled tough and it paid off.”
The benefit is at least three more practices and a match.
Injuries certainly played a role in WSU losing five of its last six matches, but Lamb has been perplexed all season by this year’s team, which was picked in the preseason to win the American Athletic Conference and finished 8-10 and in seventh place.
“To be honest, it’s been a mystery for me and the staff all year,” Lamb said. “A lot of cases we were saying the right things, but I don’t know if we were always doing the right things. I won’t hide from it. We’ve got to exorcise our demons so to speak and we have one more opportunity to do it.”
There have been bright spots to come from this season.
- Redshirt freshman Kora Kauling gained the experience of operating as the team’s lone setter for the second half of the season and averaged 8.2 assists per set once she took over.
- Sophomore outside hitter Regan Stiawalt took advantage of more playing time late, took 155 swings in WSU’s final five games and averaged 3.1 kills per set on a 0.232 attacking percentage.
Junior defensive specialist Kara Bown progressed from a little-used reserve to a reliable option on the back row. She finished with four straight matches with double-digit digs and averaged 2.7 digs per set in her final 12 matches.
On a team in desperate need of a block, sophomore middle Abby Pugh came through with six matches of at least three blocks in WSU’s final 10 matches. She is also has the second-highest attacking percentage (0.290) for WSU.
“A couple of players have certainly taken advantage of their playing time and have come a long way since the start of the season,” Lamb said. “I’m excited for that reason and I’m excited for them.
WSU has played in the NCAA Tournament 11 times (all in the last 15 years), but has never played in another postseason tournament.
“It’s just nice to be playing in the postseason,” Lamb said. “It’s a tradition around here, so let’s keeping it rolling.”