Volleyball preps for No. 3 Texas

Grant Cohen

WSU volleyball ended their home opener in disappointing fashion on Friday night, falling 3-1 to Cincinnati at Charles Koch Arena.  

Responding with two sweeps against IUPUI and Marquette, WSU sits at 3-2 ready to face its biggest challenge of the season: a tournament in Fort Collins, Colorado, that includes a date with No. 3 Texas. 

The Shockers also face Colorado State and Samford this weekend, with Colorado State looking to return to the Top 25 polls after dropping out earlier this week. 

WSU found an emerging piece to their offense in sophomore outside hitter Tabitha Brown. After playing quietly in the first three games of the season, the transfer from Alabama combined for 24 kills in the last two matches with a hitting percentage of .326. 

Brown’s career high of 13 kills helped the Shockers dominate IUPUI in three sets, while her 11 kills helped open up more scoring options up front in the sweep against Marquette.

Shocker Classic Tournament MVP Emily Hiebert has also helped the Shocker’s offense. Hiebert has managed a double-double in three out of the first five matches this season in assists and digs, including a 36 assists and 10-dig performance against IUPUI. 

WSU opens up the Rams Volleyball Classic with a match against host team Colorado State at 8 p.m. Thursday. 

Colorado State, 8 p.m. Thursday

Colorado State held the 25th spot in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 poll for the preseason and week one, but the Rams dropped out after losing its last two games to Pittsburgh and UC Santa Barbara. 

With a 4-2 record, a victory over the Rams in Fort Collins would continue to strengthen WSU’s non-conference résumé. CSU earned a spot in the 2015 NCAA Tournament with a 26-3 regular season record, being upset by Loyola Marymount in the first round.

The Rams are efficient offensively, hitting .272 while averaging 13.6 kills per set. While their opponents manage more attacks a game, CSU makes their opposing offense work for every point. Averaging 14.55 digs per set, the Rams have held opponents to a .172 hitting percentage so far this season.

Katie Oleksak allows the Ram’s offense to score, setting up kills for 10.73 assists per set while coming up with 3.09 digs per set on defense. Sanja Cizmic leads CSU with 3.14 kills per set, but has a hitting percentage of .196 on the season.

CSU has not won a match this season when opponents hit .200 or better against them. 

No. 3 Texas, 1 p.m. Saturday

The Shockers have had their calendars marked on this game since Lamb put the Longhorns on their schedule. Ranking No. 3 in the nation, Texas will be the highest ranked, and most likely, the toughest opponent WSU faces all season.

The Longhorns prove to be one of the top volleyball programs in the country year after year, losing in the National Championship game to Nebraska last season. Bringing a 5-1 record to CSU’s tournament, the Longhorn’s only loss this season comes from the No. 1 Cornhuskers on neutral court.

Texas wins games from its offense, hitting .300 this season to add to averaging 14.15 kills per set. Ebony Nwanebu leads the way averaging 4.75 kills per set, while 2015 third team All-American Chloe Collins provides the outside hitters with 11 assists per set. 

Defense has not been one of the Longhorn’s best qualities this season, allowing teams to hit .221 with 12.7 kills per set. Texas does, however, use their length and size up front to their advantage, averaging more than two blocks per set. 

WSU will gain preparation for the NCAA Tournament later in December from playing the Longhorns, but a victory would boost their RPI while adding one of the school’s best wins in program history.

Samford, 1 p.m. Sunday

After playing Cal State Northridge in Laramie, Wyoming, at 6 p.m. Saturday, it is hard to predict how much energy Samford will have against the Shockers after playing two matches the day before.

Whether energetic or sluggish, Samford will likely be the weakest team the Shockers face this weekend. The Bulldogs are sitting at a 5-2 record, but their victories do not speak loudly with their shutouts to Alabama and Indiana State.

Samford’s offense relies heavily on Erin Bognar and Kate Neisler, who are averaging four kills a set each. Erika Pifer has shown to be Samford’s top two-way player, averaging 9.25 assists and two digs per set.

The Bulldogs average 15.21 digs per set as a team on defense. Samford’s five wins are largely credited with holding their opponents to a hitting percentage of .180, while the Bulldogs hit .237. 

The serve and pass game will come to the Shocker’s advantage, as the Bulldog’s allow more than one service ace per set while averaging 2.3 service errors per set.