With just 28% of swings coming from the outside returning from last season’s team, the Wichita State volleyball team is in search of outside hitters to help out lone returner Megan Taflinger.
The first chance to make an impression on WSU coach Chris Lamb will be this Saturday when the Shockers play host to Kansas at 3 p.m. Tickets are available on GoShockers.com with the match being broadcast on Cox Yurview (HD 2022).
One outside hitter trending in the right direction is Brylee Kelly, a redshirt freshman and 6-foot-1 native of Monee, Illinois.
“Like so many Shockers before her, she definitely looks the part,” Lamb said. “There are times when you could walk in the gym and see a couple of swings and be like, ‘Whoa, is that one of your better hitters?’ She flashes from time to time, but we’ve got to continue to get her stronger and more consistent.”
Building strength was the top priority for Kelly over the last year during her redshirt season, a goal she says she accomplished. She’s still not where she wants to be, but Kelly is a lot closer than a year ago and believes she is much more ready to make an immediate impact for the Shockers this season, which begins at the Penn State Classic on Aug. 30-31.
“I really thought taking a redshirt year was the best thing for me, both physically and mentally,” Kelly said. “I got a lot stronger, both physically and mentally and that’s why I think this year is going to be great.”
An inspiration for Kelly on her path can be found in Taflinger, who also redshirted her first year with WSU, then delivered a breakout campaign for the Shockers last season and led the team in kills per set.
Kelly said the coaches have constantly referred to Taflinger as a road map for her. Taflinger has been a mentor during the last year, too, she said.
“So far she looks really good,” Taflinger said of Kelly. “She’s hitting it hard and she’s trying hard. Everything the coaches are telling her is going in her mind, so that’s really good to see.
“The biggest thing I learned when I first got here was that if you can pass, then you will always play. For Brylee, that’s what she’s got to keep working on and also understand when the set is not good enough to just keep it in play and not make the error.”
Lamb also made the same diagnosis with Kelly’s play after the first week of practice, which is why he thinks her ceiling will grow higher the stronger she gets.
“With Brylee, her volleyball curve is probably going to follow her strength,” Lamb said. “When the game is moving slower, she looks pretty powerful. But it’s when the game speeds up and it changes direction, she’s got to be prepared to be powerful with a shorter approach. I think as she continues to get stronger, the more and more powerful she’s going to be in those less-than-perfect situations.”
That kind of potential is tantalizing for Lamb, but he also knows Kelly can offer plenty to the Shockers in the present. Along with those flashes of dominance hitting, Kelly has proven to be a strong blocker in practice.
With only Taflinger returning from WSU’s rotation of four outside hitters last season, Kelly and a host of freshmen — in Sophia Rohling, Sina Uluave and Nicole Anderson — will look to make their mark on Saturday against KU. With so many swings up for grabs, two-a-day practices have been that much more competitive.
“(The chance to play immediately) has been unexpected, but that’s the way it worked out and it’s something we’re all looking forward to,” Kelly said. “You can kind of tell everything is up for grabs in practice and everyone is so motivated.”
For Lamb, Saturday’s exhibition will be a crucial teaching tool for the two weeks leading up to the Shockers’ season opener.
“A huge thank you goes out to KU not only for playing us, but for bringing it to Wichita and also doing it this week,” Lamb said. “I’m sure both coaches are going to be putting in hours and hours into the video afterwards, sitting down with players and showing them this is why you scored and this is why you didn’t score.
“It’s one thing to show players in practice, but another to show it to them when it’s more real like this. You can never replicate another team on the other side of the net, a referee on the ladder and the uniforms and the lights. I’m super pumped we get to do it.”