Jody Larson started practice with Wichita State’s volleyball team on Wednesday. It took coach Chris Lamb two days to start fixing her serve.
That is exactly what Larson wanted when she transferred from Oklahoma to WSU this semester.
“I just needed a different coaching style, and I think I found it here,” she said. “Just being able to learn, and have somebody want to make you a better player, and go through the small things and work on everything. At Oklahoma, I really didn’t get that.”
Nobody loves the detail and time of training in a gym more than Lamb. Larson found a coach willing to break down her game and spend time on hand positioning, body positioning, footwork and attack angles for hours. Lamb watched her serve and determined she was leaning too far back, robbing her arm of power, and needed to toss the ball farther away from her body.
“They’ve already fixed things I was never even told were wrong before,” she said.
Larson, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, played two seasons as a backup at OU and appeared in 86 sets, totaling 127 kills. She will have two seasons of eligibility at WSU, starting in the fall. At Maize South, she earned All-Class 5A honors as a junior and senior and Eagle All-Metro honors three seasons. She grew up an OU fan and didn’t strongly consider other schools in high school. When she wanted to transfer, WSU became her first option.
WSU’s spring practices are always a time for shuffling lineups and experimenting. Larson’s arrival gives Lamb a player who could be a unique weapon. She set in high school and worked at that position in practice at OU. Lamb wants to see if she can set and play as an attacker, raising the opportunity of playing the 6-2 with Larson sharing the setting with sophomore-to-be Emily Hiebert.
“She’s got a crazy skill-set,” Lamb said. “We are one of the few teams in America that could have reason to play the true 6-2, the old-school 6-2, or half of it, if we sub out one of the setters. It has to be looked at.”
Larson’s arrival cushions the roster from the departure of Ashlyn Driskill, who graduated a year early and decided to start medical school. Driskill totaled 220 kills, third on the team last season. The improvement of sophomore-to-be Jenny Whitledge, as a six-rotation player, gives Lamb confidence he can fill his attacking spots. WSU went 20-10 last season and its streak of seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances ended.
“Whitledge pretty much played every point from about halfway on,” Lamb said. “Mikaela Raudsepp, prior to her (concussion) was doing just fine on the left. We could look at her on the right. Kara Maleski could go in there on the right. Katy Dudzinski could play on the right. Jody Larson could play on the right. Jaclyn Roddy could play on the right.”
WSU has two spring tournaments scheduled and Lamb wants to add one or two more, perhaps one at home. WSU plays Kansas, Colorado State and Denver in Colby on March 28. On April 11, WSU meets Kansas State, Kansas, UMKC, Saint Louis, perhaps others, at UMKC.
No TV vs. Drake – Sunday’s men’s basketball game is broadcast on espn3.com, ESPN’s Internet outlet, and the WatchESPN app for tablets and smartphones. It is available nationwide with no blackouts. The MVC’s contract with ESPN allows ESPN to pick one Sunday game for ESPNU at least 10 days in advance. ESPN chose Northern Iowa at Illinois State for Sunday’s 3 p.m. broadcast on ESPNU.
Looking for a catcher — Wichita State baseball coach Todd Butler is counting on junior Ryan Tinkham, a transfer from Oxnard (Calif.) Community College, to hit in the middle of the order. He is also counting on him to catch.
Tinkham had shoulder surgery last spring after he dislocated his right shoulder sliding into home in a playoff game. He is cleared to throw, but progress is not coming as quickly as Butler hoped. Tinkham, who had labrum surgery earlier in his career, did not throw during fall practices.
“His throwing is behind,” Butler said. “I think he still has the fear of cutting it loose. He’s playing catch. I don’t think he’s throwing 100 percent yet and we have to work him through that.”
If Tinkham can’t catch, he can play first base and DH. He hit .360 with four home runs and eight doubles in 37 games last spring.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “I’m trying to bump up the intensity a little bit and start letting the ball go a little bit more every day.”
If Tinkham can’t play catcher, Butler’s likely first option is senior Bob Arens, who played in seven games last season and owns seven starts over his career. Freshmen Gunnar Troutwine and Taylor Sanagorski are also options. Troutwine possesses some pop his bat and is still learning the defensive demands. Sanagorski, a switch-hitter, improved his throwing accuracy in the fall.
“Bob Arens — he knows everything and he can really catch and throw,” Butler said. “He has a chance to grab that position.”
Coaching the coaches — Author and leadership coach Rod Olson will speak at WSU’s First Pitch Banquet on Thursday at Koch Arena. Butler often has his players read Olson’s book, “The Legacy Builder,” for leadership lessons.
Olson, who coached college baseball and football, stays attached to baseball by working with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He helps the Pirates develop coaches and recently ran a weekend of marriage renewal for around 60 couples who work for the Pirates in the front office, coaching and scouting.
Olson’s seminars are often directed at helping coaches deal with the modern athlete, modern scrutiny and social media.
“The standards that society has set now for our coaches, both professionally and personally, are off the charts compared to what they used to be,” he said. “It used to be you could win and do whatever you wanted. You could motivate anyway you wanted. There were no cameras. There were no microphones. Nobody really knew what you were doing.”
Athletes are also different and Olson tries to help coaches turn athletes from a generation some consider “me-first” into a team. Some athletes grow up expecting a trophy for every accomplishment and that may not fit with a coach’s old-school attitude.
“The entitlement is pretty high these days, so the ability to connect with them and build relationships, which we didn’t used to have to do as coaches — it was blind obedience and ask them to run through a brick wall and they would,” he said. “Now, they’re taught to ask ‘Why?’”
Olson and the Pirates recognize that baseball is tough on families with its long season and frequent travel. Coaches and scouts spend many nights on the road and the Pirates wanted to give their families a booster shot before the grind starts. Olson said he’s not aware of another organization that offers a similar program.
“We had some training sessions, stuff like how to fight fair in your marriage … just to give them some tools to rekindle and reconnect before the season starts,” he said. “It’s a difficult deal, especially for the younger couples. They’re getting ready to hit that nine-month stint where it’s going to be brutal.”
Etc. – Lamb is starting a training series for young volleyball players in February. Cost is $100 for four 90-minute sessions or $30 per session. WSU’s Fast Fours program, for grades 4-12, begins Monday at Koch Arena with a 30-minute clinic followed by a match. For information, call 316-978-5549.