Wichita State volleyball coach Chris Lamb often sent three or four freshmen and a sophomore to the court last season. A program usually defined by experience and continuity went young and it hurt at times.
The inexperience showed as the Shockers finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference and their No. 71 RPI slumped well outside the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion. The Shockers stayed home from the NCAAs for the first time since 2006. On Thursday, many of those same athletes gathered for picture and video shoots at Koch Arena. On Friday, the Shockers start two-a-day practices.
They don’t feel like a young team in 2015. Six sophomores — four of whom redshirted in 2013 — with significant playing time in 2014 are back to fit with four juniors and two seniors.
“An extra year of experience, training, knowing people’s tendencies that is going to help us,” junior middle Katy Dudzinski said. “Emily (Hiebert) walks with a different air of confidence than she did in the fall. Emily just knows. Before, she would have to look to the coaches so they could direct her. Now she knows. She has full command of the court.”
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Hiebert, WSU’s sophomore setter, is just one example. The lineup WSU puts on the floor against Oregon State on Aug. 28 in Hawaii will be prepared for high-level volleyball. A year ago, six Shockers played their first college matches in 3-0 losses to Kentucky and Virginia Tech.
“The youth was a big factor last year, but having all those freshmen back and able to grow them another year, we’re able to figure out new lineups, new strengths, figure out what plays to our abilities,” junior libero Dani Mostrom said.
The Shockers (20-10 last season, 13-5 MVC) start camp set at enough positions for coach Chris Lamb to feel solid, but also with plenty of potential for new faces, new roles and competition for playing time. Hiebert and All-MVC middle Abbie Lehman should again give WSU potent scoring. All-MVC outside hitter MaryAshton Floyd returns, as does senior middle Katie Reilly.
Sophomores Mikaela Raudsepp and Jenny Whitledge played important roles as attackers. Sophomores Gabi Mostrom and Hanna Shelton contributed as defensive specialists. Lamb moved Dudzinksi to middle with the intention of getting her consistent playing time.
“So many things were brand new to our starters last year,” Lamb said. “While it’s still competitive, for sure, we know more. We’re not exploring as much on day one as we were then.”
The Shockers added experience when Maize South’s Jody Larson, an outside hitter, transferred from Oklahoma in January. She practiced with WSU in the spring and is expected to play all six rotations. Larson played in 28 matches
“She’s meshed really well,” Floyd said. “She has a lot of skills and can play on either pin and in the back row.”
Lamb plans to alter his practices during two-a-days to protect legs and shoulders from fatigue. With a large number of returners, he doesn’t need to see quite as many scrimmages to decide who can play.
“We’re going to be less physical for both practices,” he said. “I’m going to be a little more careful on bodies early. We’re going to put a lot of time into learning, rather than just competing.”
Three things about WSU volleyball
1. Outside hitter Shimen Fayad, a redshirt freshman from British Columbia, excelled in the spring and will push for playing time. She is a strong blocker with a fast arm and good leaping ability.
“We actually did some things in training that were centered around the needs that Shimen probably has as an attacker,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “We said ‘This girl needs this and we’re going to devote our time to this.’ It completely worked.”
2. Lamb wants setter Emily Hiebert to expand her game as a sophomore. Last season, she devoted her time to learning the system and executing the basics of her position.
“Now you almost want to cut her loose because there’s some athlete in there that can grow,” Lamb said. “I want her on the scoreboard. I want her to be a serving threat. I want her to be an attacking threat. I want her not to worry so much about running around setting hitters; I want her to affect the game as a defender. She’s got the talent to be good at everything.”
3. WSU will play a fourth tournament weekend, thanks to a change in Missouri Valley Conference scheduling that pleases Lamb.
Every MVC team will move two matches to a mid-week spot in order to clear a weekend. WSU plays at Evansville on Oct. 5 and at Southern Illinois on Nov. 2, both Mondays. The addition of another tournament gives teams the chance to improve their non-conference strength of schedule.