When the Wichita State volleyball team opens the 2019 season on Friday at the Penn State Classic, junior setter McKayla Wuensch will be bringing a little more anticipation than the other 14 newcomers on the Shockers.
That’s because Wuensch, a 5-foot-9 setter who transferred from Nevada to WSU in the spring, has yet to be given the chance to run a college offense, despite a standout prep career in Illinois.
That will change this weekend, as Wuensch is expected to handle a sizable load of the setting for the Shockers against Holy Cross (4 p.m. Friday), Hofstra (12 p.m. Saturday) and No. 8 Penn State (7 p.m. Saturday).
“I’ve always believed in myself and knew I could do this, but it’s so amazing to have coaches and teammates believe in you,” Wuensch said. “It’s kind of like a prove-everyone-wrong situation because I feel like I’ve always been an underdog where no one has really given me a chance or had faith in me the way I’ve had faith in me.”
Wuensch felt like she proved her ability at Marion Central in Illinois, where she led the team to a Class 3A championship and set a state record with 34 assists in the title match, and recorded school records in assists for a single season (877) and career (2,348) while garnering All-American status her junior and senior years from PrepVolleyball.com and MaxPreps.com.
That led to a scholarship to Nevada, but Wuensch was rarely used and Nevada struggled to a combined 18-41 record those two years.
When Wuensch entered her name into the NCAA transfer portal, WSU coach Chris Lamb recognized it from a camp and remembered her top-level athleticism. With WSU’s setting for 2019 unclear, Lamb made Wuensch a priority target and convinced her to pick the Shockers over Auburn and Ohio.
That athleticism has made Wuensch stand out in practices the last three weeks, while Lamb is working with her to improve her location and understanding of the system.
“We’re working on finding that balance of competitor, athlete and setter,” Lamb said. “Right now she’s still more competitor and athlete. We’re trying to teach her the art of setting and how different systems work on both sides of the net. You only get a handful of perfect situations a game, so we want her to be perfect, not just an athletic kid running around and throwing it around.”
Lamb runs a detail-oriented system, which Wuensch has said is challenging to learn but a challenge she has embraced.
“Every day I come to practice and I swear I learn something new,” Wuensch said. “Even in the offices yesterday, I was still learning new things. Honestly, (Lamb) is a genius. No wonder they’ve been winning for so long here. You can’t run the same thing over and over again. It’s really impressive all of the things they come up with.”
That dedication to learning has already made an impression on her teammates, especially the pin hitters who she is working with on a daily basis.
“Her ability to be quick is what stands out to me,” said sophomore outside hitter Megan Taflinger, who led the Shockers in kills per set last season. “She blocks well, which is good in a 5-1 system. She dumps well. She has an open mind to learn all the time.”
Lamb wasn’t willing to commit to one system or another before the Penn State Classic, but did acknowledge Wuensch will handle a good chunk of the handling duties along with freshman Kayce Litzau and sophomore Kora Kauling.
Armed with the knowledge that Lamb believes in her, Wuensch is confident she will be able to produce like the high-level setter she has believed she can be all along.
“The relationship between your setter and your coach in volleyball is so important,” Wuensch said. “You always have to be on same wave length. When the coach wants us to run something, it’s my job to be on top of it. Knowing that Lamb trusts me is huge because I know we’re already on the same page.”