Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: WSU volleyball moves on without pivotal player

I'm pretty sure Wichita State volleyball player Sarah McGee wanted to cry Monday night, when she was singled out by Shocker coach Chris Lamb for the hard work she's put in during her career.

But McGee is cried out.

The emotion of the moment got to her, but she managed to keep it together during a ceremony honoring the volleyball team at halftime of the men's basketball game, if only because she's been unable to keep it together so often over the past couple of weeks, since a knee injury against Northern Iowa in the final weekend of the regular season put her on the shelf.

McGee, a 6-foot-3 senior middle blocker, won't be in uniform when WSU meets Oklahoma in Norman on Friday night, a semifinal match in the Norman Regional. She won't be in a Shocker uniform ever again after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

"It's been really hard,'' she said.

Lamb went off the cuff when he compared McGee's work ethic to former Shocker basketball standout Xavier McDaniel, whose WSU career ended about 15 years before Lamb arrived as volleyball coach. But his point was made.

"I'm sure McDaniel was super human,'' Lamb said. "Regardless of what it might have sounded like, Sarah's certainly earned all the praise she's gotten. If we were going to one day start to build a Mount Rushmore of Shocker volleyball players, I know for sure two of the faces on it would be Emily Stockman and Sara Lungren. But I would start carving Sarah McGee's face up there, too.''

High praise from a coach who will have to make do without the Missouri Valley Conference's defensive player of the year this weekend.

McGee, a three-time All-Valley player, wasn't heavily recruited out of Hazelwood Central High in Florissant, Mo. Lamb said she was told by Missouri State's coaches that she would probably be a practice squad player, at best.

Lamb took a chance, which he loves to do. He couldn't pass up McGee's size and even though she was a tad awkward as a freshman, he never stopped pushing her.

"I think Lambo wanted to mold me and that's just what he did,'' McGee said. "I've definitely come a long way and I'll definitely stand by my hard work. My parents always told me you can't be the best every day, but you can work hard every day.''

To hear McGee tell it, nobody grows up wanting to be a middle blocker. It's the dirtiest position in volleyball. There's isn't much glory to be had, because the main job of a middle blocker is to block. Not to kill or set, but to block.

"That's always what I've been,'' McGee said. "It seems like every other girl who plays that position wants to be something else. But I like it because I feel like I'm involved in almost every play. And getting a stuff block — I feel that can change a rally, change the momentum of a game.''

Blocking also requires tremendously strong leg joints and it appears McGee's knee finally wore down. She hadn't dealt with many injury issues during her Shocker career and thought she'd be able to walk this one off. But eventually the knee collapsed.

And now she'll be a cheerleader.

"I was talking to our setter, (Mary Elizabeth) Hooper, and it's hard to accept this new role,'' McGee said. "It's not something I've been accustomed to any time recently. I'll just try and get excited for my team as much as possible and try not to be a distraction. This is an awesome thing for us, the NCAA Tournament. It's huge and I love that I get to go.''

Before Lamb addressed the basketball crowd Monday night, he asked the more than 10,000 people inside Koch Arena to stand. Then he looked directly at McGee, standing near him with her left in a brace, and expressed his appreciation for what she had given to the Shockers.

Clearly, McGee is more than just a player to Lamb. He credits her for pulling a young team together during a tournament in Texas last spring when chemistry was lacking.

"She's had as much invested in this program as anybody ever has,'' Lamb said. "She's given all she could possibly give.''

And that's what Lamb told the crowd as McGee looked on in astonishment.

"Yeah, I texted him later and said, 'Really, you're trying to make me cry in front of 8,000 people?' " McGee said. "But it meant a lot. To think that he would think that highly of me and be OK with sharing it with that many people. It meant a lot.''

You could tell from looking at her that McGee wanted to cry. I'm not even sure she didn't try to cry.

But tears are finite, sometimes.

"It wasn't easy to hold it together there,'' McGee said. "It's been hard knowing I was done for this season, an emotional week and a half or two weeks. I just got to a point where I couldn't cry anymore.''