Mikaela Raudsepp must fight for playing time as a sophomore attacker on the Wichita State volleyball team. It is a much different feeling than a year ago, when it seemed a lack of options handed her a starting spot.
She worked for it. She played well for the first half of the season, displaying advanced scoring skills for a freshman and significant potential to play all six rotations throughout her career. Looking back, however, perhaps it came a bit too easy.
Then adversity struck and prepared her for a tougher challenge.
“This fall is way more ‘You have to prove every second of every day that you deserve and have earned this spot,’” she said. “Last fall, it was like ‘OK, we need someone to step up, so whoever does the best job of stepping up is going to get the position.’”
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Raudsepp, from Dundee, Ore., led WSU with 11 kills in her first college match, a 3-0 loss to Kentucky. She became the first freshman to lead the team in its opening match since Sara Younes in 2001. She played six rotations and led WSU with 31 kills in its opening weekend. A week later, she recorded 18 kills against North Texas and 20 digs, both season-highs, against Texas State.
Through the season’s first 18 matches, she played as well as any true freshman in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Raudsepp took advantage of an unsettled roster with one senior and 13 freshmen. She zipped to the top of the depth chart, and wasn’t sure what that meant.
“It was more like ‘Here it is,’ rather than fighting and clawing and scratching your way into the lineup,” she said. “No one gets it easy here anymore.”
Raudsepp’s freshman season veered off course in late October. She missed three matches with a concussion, suffered when she took a ball to the left temple during warmups before a match at Evansville.
When she returned, she played more on the right side, an unfamiliar position. Her role decreased and her attack percentage slumped to .154, although her 211 kills ranked fourth on the team. After leading WSU in kills seven times in the first 18 matches, she didn’t lead again in the final 12.
“All of a sudden, things weren’t the same,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “When you realize that a lot of people are doing a lot of work without you, do you come back in and feel like nothing’s changed? Maybe she came back feeling like a bit of a newcomer to the group.”
While Raudsepp missed practice and matches, WSU evolved with middle Abbie Lehman and attackers MaryAshton Floyd and Ashlyn Driskill taking most of the swings.
“I wasn’t as confident on the floor,” Raudsepp said. “I wasn’t necessarily as much of a go-to player as I was beforehand. It took me a couple of weeks to figure out that ‘Oh, my gosh, my role has changed.’ It wasn’t necessarily something that I could have controlled.”
While her freshman season didn’t follow a straight line to success, Raudsepp takes the view the adversity is helping this fall. WSU’s roster is more experienced with six sophomores, four juniors and two seniors. Four of those sophomores redshirted in 2013 and are in their third season of college volleyball.
The result is more competitive practices with numerous athletes who know the system and feel they are talented enough to play. Raudsepp doesn’t need to worry about minutes handed out.
“Getting things taken away was, I think, God’s way of asking me ‘OK, I’ve showed you that this is where I want you to be, now I need you to fight for it,’” she said. “I think that was something that needed to happen. That has prepared me for coming in and having a deep roster this year and realizing that I do have to fight. I’m not sitting in a comfortable position. I’m not guaranteed to start. I’m not even guaranteed to see the floor this year.”
Lamb sees Raudsepp as an option on both the left and right and playing all six rotations again. One of Lamb’s challenges is boosting Raudsepp to feel positive about her game on days when one or two aspects might slip.
“You’re still contributing a lot, even though you’re not contributing everything,” he said. “She’s got the tools to be one of the higher-level players in the Valley; it’s just bringing it out of her on a daily basis. It’s getting her to feel confident about herself, even when she’s not perfect.”
Raudsepp considers herself a better passer as a sophomore and her understanding of the positioning and hand movements needed for blocking is growing. In both areas, she considered herself behind other Shockers with more club experience.
“Passing is not there yet, but I’ve made tremendous gains,” she said. “I feel like I’m catching up. For my club team, I was the tallest by six inches so we never did blocking in practice, because I was the only one who got across the net.”
Shockers voted MVC favorite — Wichita State is the preseason volleyball favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Shockers received 97 points and seven first-place votes. Second-place Missouri State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois also received first-place votes. Defending champion Illinois State is picked fifth.
WSU sophomore middle Abbie Lehman was named to the preseason All-MVC team.
WSU, which returns six starters, went 20-10 last season and finished third in the MVC with a 13-5 record. It missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Shockers open the season on Aug. 28 against Oregon State in Hawaii.
WSU cross country picked third — MVC coaches voted the Shockers third in the men’s and women’s cross country polls.
The WSU men received 60 points with one first-place vote, finishing behind defending champion Indiana State’s 72 points and four first-place votes and Bradley’s 69 points and four first-place votes.
The Shockers women earned 77 points. Defending champion Bradley is the favorite with 98 points and eight first-place votes. Illinois State is second with 88 points and two first-place votes.
MVC volleyball poll
1. Wichita State 97 points (7 first-place votes)
2. Missouri State 87 (1)
3. Northern Iowa 76 (1)
4. Southern Illinois 72 (1)
5. Illinois State 63
6. Indiana State 50
7. Loyola 43
8. Drake 25
9. Evansville 22
10. Bradley 15
MB — Kayla Haneline, Northern Iowa
OH — Lily Johnson, Missouri State
MB — Jaelyn Keene, Illinois State
MB — Abbie Lehman, Wichita State
MB — Taylor Pippen, Southern Illinois
OH — Ashley Rosch, Illinois State
WSU Volleyball schedule
Rainbow Wahine Invitational, Honolulu
28 — vs. Oregon State, 9:30 p.m.
29 — at Hawaii, 11:59 p.m.
30 — vs. Idaho, 7:30 p.m.
Texas A&M Invitational
4 — vs. Abilene Christian, 11 a.m.; vs. New Mexico State, 7 p.m.
5 — at Texas A&M, 1 p.m.
Shocker Volleyball Classic
10 — vs. South Dakota State, 12:30 p.m.; vs. Northern Illinois, 7:30 p.m.
11 — vs. Kentucky, 8 p.m.
12 — vs. Illinois, 8 p.m.
18 — at Marquette, 7 p.m.
19 — vs. IUPUI, 10 a.m.; vs. Albany, 5 p.m.
25 — vs. Indiana State, 7 p.m.
26 — vs. Illinois State, 7 p.m.
2 — vs. Missouri State, 7 p.m.
5 — at Evansville, 7 p.m.
9 — at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m.
10 — at Drake, 7 p.m.
16 — vs. Bradley, 7 p.m.
17 — vs. Loyola, 7 p.m.
23 — at Illinois State, 6 p.m.
24 — at Indiana State, 6 p.m.
31 — at Missouri State, 7 p.m.
2 — at Southern Illinois, 7 p.m.
6 — vs. Drake, 7 p.m.
7 — vs. Northern Iowa, 7 p.m.
13 — at Loyola, 7 p.m.
14 — at Bradley, 7 p.m.
20 — vs. Southern Illinois, 7 p.m.
21 — vs. Evansville, 7 p.m.
26-28 — MVC Tournament, Springfield, Mo.