‘I saw growth tonight:’ Shockers fall to AAC favorites in five sets


Sean Marty / The Sunflower

Wichita State freshman Morgan Weber celebrates after a point during WSU’s match against UCF on Oct. 1 inside Charles Koch Arena.

The Wichita State volleyball program fell in five sets to Central Florida in five sets on Friday. The loss is WSU’s fifth straight but even in defeat, the Shockers showed encouraging signs. 

“I saw growth tonight,” head coach Chris Lamb said. “The ceiling looks higher to me. And the floor might not be as low. We might have put some of that behind us.”

The Shockers rallied to take a 2-1 advantage through three sets, after dropping the opening set. UCF, the American Athletic Conference favorites,  responded to the 2-1 deficit with a comfortable set four win, after hitting .375 in the fourth to force the fifth and deciding set.

WSU secured an early 7-6 lead in the fifth, but UCF answered with back-to-back points and took  the advantage. The Shockers weren’t able to make a late comeback, the Knights taking the final set 15-12.

“I was happy we were competitive,” Lamb said. “We had some regrettable brainfarts but we were getting closer. I was really impressed with a bunch of young Shockers finding their way and giving a great team all they could handle.”

Sophomore setter Kayce Litzau led the offense and tallied 51 assists — the second highest mark for Litzau this season. She helped Brylee Kelly collect a team-high 18 kills and lead the Shockers to hit .203 for the match.

“The last couple weeks are the best Kayce Litzau’s ever been as a volleyball player,” Lamb said. “She can hold her own with some of the better setters in our conference and it’s a testament to her growth as an athlete.”

Kelly’s 18 kills were her  career-high with the Shockers and said that her connection with WSU is the best it’s ever been.

“Right after the game, I told Kayce (Litzau) I was so proud of her,” Kelly said. “That’s the best I’ve seen her set. I’ve played with her for three years now and she looked great.”

The Shockers have dealt with a shorthanded roster in games and practices this year, which Litzau said has impacted the setter’s chemistry with the attackers. WSU was without Kailin Newsome and Lauren McMahon due to injuries against UCF but Morgan Weber saw her first action since August 28, due to COVID-19 protocols. Weber contributed 14 kills and nine digs in the loss.

“We’ve been working a lot on it in practice, just over-exaggerating, especially on the outside and pushing it out there,” Litzau said. “With the middles, too, just knowing their tendencies and knowing when they’ll transition and understanding where they’re at, based on the set, based on the situation. More reps with that helps out a lot.”

The Shockers limited the effectiveness of defending AAC player of the year McKenna Melville, who tallied 23 kills but on a .167 hitting percentage. UCF’s Anne-Marie Watson took advantage of WSU’s extra attention on Melville, tallying 17 kills on 36 attempts. 

Lamb said that he was impressed with the team’s ability to adjust on defense, which hasn’t been the case at times this season. 

“There were some, what I call junk defenses, that we rolled out a little bit,” Lamb said. “We were certainly reacting to certain things outside the norm, outside the box. Starting with Natalie Foster and Morgan (Stout), whose heads were spinning when I was trying to do these things a week ago, came a long way.”

The Shockers will return to action on Sunday as they take on South Florida at 1 p.m. inside Charles Koch Arena. The game will also be broadcast on ESPN+.