The 11 newcomers on the Wichita State volleyball team registered their first taste of of Division I experience with the Shockers on Saturday in an exhibition match against Kansas at Koch Arena in front of more than 3,000 fans.
There were certainly promising signs in a match that went to a fifth and decisive set, but ultimately KU came away with a 23-25, 28-26, 11-25, 25-15, 15-6 victory.
“I liked that we were competing,” WSU volleyball coach Chris Lamb said. “We didn’t have a scouting report, we didn’t work on anything defensively. There’s a whole bunch we haven’t got to, so (Saturday) was just about trying to see what we got. We’re just trying to put the pieces together and I’m very happy with how that went.”
For a team that has more newcomers (11) than returners (eight), Saturday’s action will be a valuable teaching tool for Lamb and his coaching staff the next two weeks before the season begins on August 30 at the Penn State Classic.
WSU looked promising when it played its top players in the first two sets, as the Shockers took the first set, 25-23, and led 24-21 in the second set but failing to close it out in a 28-26 loss. That’s when Lamb pulled his top hitter, Megan Taflinger, and pivoted the team’s focus.
The focus from there was trying to gain as much experience as possible for the newcomers. To that end, Lamb said the match was a success regardless of the end result.
“We knew we were taking the foot off the gas after two sets one way or another, so we just threw some lineups together and had fun with it,” Lamb said. “We just told them to go get some digs and get some big approaches. We definitely didn’t want to win that fourth set because we wanted to get more action. We weren’t too concerned about the outcome, we just wanted to get two hours of volleyball.”
Junior middle blocker Emma Wright led the Shockers with eight kills, which tied for the team lead with Taflinger, while Wright also registered a team-high 4 1/2 blocks.
McKayla Wuensch, a Nevada transfer, handled most of the setting duties and finished with 20 assists, while freshman Kayce Litzau recorded 10 assists in relief duty. Freshman Arianna Arjomand registered a team-high 13 digs, while senior Kara Bown added 12 digs from the back row.
Lamb said that Arjomand, freshman outside hitter Nicole Anderson (six kills), and redshirt freshman outside hitter Brylee Kelly (five kills) were all pleasant surprises to him on the day.
“And even though it wasn’t a surprise, I was still happy to see Emma Wright be on the scoreboard as much as she was,” Lamb said.
The highlight of the day for the Shockers came in the first set when WSU pulled out a competitive first set with crucial kills by freshman Sina Uluave, Anderson and Wright to close out the 25-23 victory.
A service ace by Wuensch pushed WSU’s lead to 24-21 in the second set, but KU rallied back to take the set 28-26. KU freshman Gracie Van Driel, a Rose Hill graduate, finished with five kills as a highlight for the Jayhawks, which return several pieces from a 15-12 team last season.
“We’re going to give the girls (Sunday) off and then the coaches are going to break down all of the tape,” Lamb said. “We’re going to pick up a handful of things and pick out what we want this coming week to be about in practice.”