On maybe another team, the players would have panicked when they fell behind 5-1 in the fifth set.
Not Wichita State.
The Shockers are comfortable with the intensity of a final set, and it showed on Friday night at Koch Arena in their home opener against Tulane in front of 4,270 fans. WSU rallied for a 25-18, 17-25, 25-17, 19-25, 15-12 victory, its third fifth-set win of the season.
“Coach told us you only get that experience by playing in that experience,” WSU senior setter Kali Eaken said. “Having those games to lean on, knowing we can pull it off, I don’t think anyone was nervous. We’re used to it now.”
WSU (6-6, 1-0 AAC) snapped the six-match winning streak of Tulane (12-4, 0-1) and improved to 3-0 this season in matches decided in the fifth set.
It’s not necessarily a trend WSU wants to continue at 1 p.m. Sunday against Memphis (7-6, 0-1), but WSU coach Chris Lamb said there is something to take away from winning so many close matches.
“The good news is that we have four stat sheets that are a toss-up and we’ve won three of those,” Lamb said. “But it’s a tough way to make a living like that.”
On Friday, WSU was able to rally from a 5-1 deficit in the fifth set. Alex Koon and Tabitha Brown delivered back-to-back kills, then WSU tied the score on a Tulane error and an ace from Emma Wright.
The two teams traded points until the score was tied at 11, then Megan Taflinger gave WSU a lead it never relinquished with a kill. Tulane committed an error next, then Taflinger followed with an ace for a third straight point and 14-11 lead. Brown finished off the match with a kill two points later.
“Right now a lot of the times we’re really relying on each other since we have so many new leaders on the team,” Taflinger said. “We have to stick with each other and feed off each other and try to fight hard. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
Eaken said WSU relied on its experience earlier in the season from five-set victories over James Madison and VCU on the road.
While the Shockers dominated VCU in a 15-9 win in the fifth set, WSU had to stave off three match points against James Madison to win 19-17. That same fight popped up again against Tulane when WSU recovered from losing the fourth set and falling behind 5-1 in the fifth.
“We didn’t play our best volleyball by any means, so for us to pull that out with a win shows a lot about the fight in this team even when we’re not playing our best,” Eaken said.
WSU hasn’t had many matches yet this season when it could say it has come close to its best.
A lot of that has to do with playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, but WSU coach Chris Lamb is still concerned with a Shockers’ offense that hit .152 as a team and was held under .200 for the seventh time already this season.
“You go out and play these really tough teams and it really exposes stuff and it keeps you at the drawing board and it helps tune you up,” Lamb said. “Well, here we are in week 5 and I have a whole new list of questions.”