Paul Suellentrop

Softball team stresses responsibility

Three times a week, Wichita State softball pitcher Brianna Smet gets a text message from a teammate around 5:45 a.m. She needs to be at Koch Arena in 35 minutes to lift weights.

It's her responsibility to get there. It's also the team's responsibility to make sure attendance is perfect.

"I live by myself, so it's just to make sure you're holding each other accountable," Smet said. "You never know if your alarm is not going to go off. Maybe you sleep through it. It's nice to have that extra little checkup."

Coach Mike Perniciaro is making that kind of discipline and structure a bigger part of the program this fall. After winning 33 or more games in his first three seasons, WSU slipped below .500 in the past two.

To adjust course, Perniciaro is tightening the way things run around Wilkins Stadium. Players late to practice, class or study hall will run, perhaps dragging their teammates along. There will be a curfew during the season. The Shockers will take a trip to Oklahoma this fall to hammer home the point that road games are not vacations.

"We have a lot of new rules," catcher Heather Gerritse said. "It's strict, but it's good."

Perniciaro wants his players to regard playing for WSU as something special and something that deserves their full attention.

"Any time you can put in some more structure and more discipline, it's going to make you better," he said. "The two big words are accountability and responsibility. Academics and softball need to be at the top of their lists."

That's the dream of every coach. An essential part of the plan is that the discipline off the field helps the team win.

"Those small things — maybe on the field it's going to translate into, 'I better be in my backup position if I'm an outfielder,' " Perniciaro said. "Or I better hustle on a ground ball I've hit."

Smet said the team needed the changes. The Shockers are also reading a leadership book, with the seniors taking the lead with that project. She thinks the team is taking to the new approach and growing closer and stronger.

"We want everyone to buy into the new program," she said. "We want to turn this program around. We've always had good teams, it's just finishing or pushing through. I think all this stuff is going to be important — be proud to be a Shocker."

Listen close — New pitching coach Margo Pruis isn't trying to remake her pitchers, even though the Shockers struggled in 2010. Her focus is on improving their strengths and making the pitchers stronger mentally.

"She really pushes our boundaries," Smet said. "Everything — drills, running, abs. Even to the point when you feel tired, well, she's going to push you even harder through that. In a game you can' t just get tired and let go. You've got to fight through that."

Pruis holds WSU's career records for wins (77), shutouts (26) and strikeouts (853). If those credentials aren't enough, she pitched and coached professionally.

"She's played with the best of the best," Smet said. "She has so much knowledge and base that she'll take what we have and make it better instead of trying to change everything."

Pruis, who coached two seasons at Middle Tennessee State, took on a challenge at WSU. She will work with Smet, freshman Sloan Anderson and sophomore Katie Armagost. Smet, a senior, went 1-6 with a 4.71 ERA in 2010. Armagost went 4-5 with a 6.84 ERA.

"You definitely don't want to change a kid completely," she said. "They're talented and they're here for a reason. You take them where they are and try to develop them — create more spin, more speed."

E for everything — E. Victor Nickerson may be the most highly rated men's basketball recruit on WSU's list. Rivals.com ranks him No. 133 among all seniors and No. 30 among small forwards.

Nickerson, from Atlanta's Norcross High, visited WSU earlier this month and includes the Shockers among four schools he is considering. He visited Charlotte earlier and plans trips to DePaul and Colorado.

"The main gym and practice gym really got my attention," he said. "I got along with the coaches and players well."

As is the case with most recruits, WSU coach Gregg Marshall made an impression with his enthusiasm.

"He showed he really cared about basketball," Nickerson said. "Something most coaches might say in a normal tone, with him it pops out with his hand motions and facial expressions."

Nickerson (6-foot-6, 175 pounds) averaged 10 points, six rebounds and 3.5 assists as a junior.

"When we took him off the floor, we weren't nearly as good," coach Jesse McMillan said.

Tyrus the Tiger — Cowley College sophomore guard Tyrus McGee also visited WSU earlier this month. The Shockers are loaded with guards, but McGee sounds like a player who is too talented to pass on.

"He's a big-leaguer," Cowley coach Tommy DeSalme said. "I've never had a kid that plays as hard on a daily basis. He's a great scorer, but most people notice how hard he competes."

McGee (6-foot-2) averaged 16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman, making 44.4 percent of his three-pointers and 82.1 percent of his free throws. He was named Jayhawk Conference East Freshman of the Year and All-Region VI.

He played shooting guard as a freshman. This season, he will move to point for the Tigers. DeSalme isn't worried about the change.

"Most people are recruiting him as a point," he said.

McGee was scheduled to visit Creighton this weekend. He is also considering Iowa State. DeSalme said he expects McGee to decide soon so he can end the recruiting calls and focus on the season. WSU offers the advantage of a five-hour drive from his home in Stringtown, Okla., a small town in southeastern Oklahoma.

"That's a good factor," DeSalme said. "WSU coaches "have done a good job getting in on him."

Spike in candidacy — WSU's volleyball boom should show up in the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame soon. Nominations are due by Oct. 4 and athletes enrolled by the 2001 fall semester are eligible.

Coach Chris Lamb's first prominent recruiting class arrived on campus that year. Outside hitter Sara Younes, WSU's first AVCA honorable mention All-American, and two-time MVC Libero of the Year Karen Augspurger headlined the class. Middle blocker Elizabeth Meyers, a two-time All-MVC pick and WSU's career and season leader in hitting percentage, redshirted in 2001.

Nominations and support materials can be sent to assistant athletic director for media relations Larry Rankin, Koch Arena, 1845 Fairmount, Wichita, 67260-0018. Rankin's e-mail address is lrankin@goshockers.com.

Summer love — Baseball America listed five Shockers among its top prospects from 18 summer leagues.

In the Jayhawk League, Baseball America ranked pitcher Charlie Lowell No. 1, followed by pitcher Brian Flynn and outfielder Garrett Bayliff at No. 7. Shortstop Tyler Grimes is ranked No. 5 from the Alaska League. First baseman Johnny Coy ranked No. 2 in the MINK League.

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