Wichita State Shockers

Ashlyn Driskill heats up by learning when to dial it back for Wichita State

Wichita State's Ashlyn Driskill hits the ball past Indiana State's Rachel Griffin in September match at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's Ashlyn Driskill hits the ball past Indiana State's Rachel Griffin in September match at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State junior Ashlyn Driskill has been here before. This time it looks like her improvement will stick.

Driskill, an outside hitter, is playing the best volleyball of her career and performing as WSU coach Chris Lamb long expected.

“You want to recruit people who you think can score, and teach them the game,” Lamb said. “Driskill’s got to hear me talk for years about kids that are less talented, but have better numbers because they just keep rallies alive.”

Driskill came to WSU with good leaping ability and a powerful swing. It took her time to perfect a variety of shots and learn when to back off the heat a bit and be satisfied with keeping the ball in play. As a junior, her attack selection and versatility is improving and an eight-match run is producing impressive numbers — 3.37 kills a set and an attack percentage of .346.

“I feel like now I’m finally better with my attack selection,” she said. “I’ve worked a lot with (assistant coach Sean Carter) on my hand contact. It’s definitely helped me during game, because I don’t have to think about it as much.”

WSU (16-8, 10-4 Missouri Valley Conference) finishes its home schedule this weekend, starting with Friday’s match against Evansville (8-19, 4-11).

Driskill leads WSU by averaging 2.7 kills a set. Her attack percentage of .218 is on pace for a career high after she posted percentages of 1.78 and .165 in her first two seasons.

“It’s the oldest she’s ever played,” Lamb said.

Improving health is helping Driskill’s strong finish to the season.

She didn’t play last spring after having surgery on her left knee. It took her well into the season before she found a warmup routine that worked. A recent change in how she tapes the knee provides more stability. Lamb moved her to the right side to protect the knee from violent landings, but Driskill preferred her old position and switched back.

She uses heat and jumping exercises help loosen up the knee before matches.

“It was a struggle at first to figure out to make it feel it comfortable,” she said. “It just takes forever to warm up. An hour of warmups definitely gets it there. Later in the match, it feels better.”

WSU (16-8, 10-4 Missouri Valley Conference) is in third place in the Valley, percentage points behind second-place Northern Iowa, with four matches to play. The Shockers are tied with Missouri State after beating the Bears 3-2 on Friday at Koch Arena. It was WSU’s first win against the MVC’s upper crust and one the players knew they needed to build confidence for the post-season.

“We kept on talking about how we were in progress,” Driskill said. “It was definitely a self-esteem boost for all of us and it proves to us we can actually do it.”

Worth noting — WSU ends its home schedule on Saturday against Southern Illinois (14-13, 8-7). WSU swept Evansville and SIU in October on the road.… WSU has won 25 of the past 26 matches against both schools.… WSU freshman middle Abbie Lehman ranks second in the MVC in attack percentage at .374.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

Evansville at Wichita State

When: 5 p.m. Friday

Where: Koch Arena

Records: UE 8-19, 4-11 MVC; WSU 16-8, 10-4