Women’s volleyball welcomes the unknown of WAC, D-I opponents
Story by Michael Ferraresi and Joshua Basulto
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
After a handful of early-season Division-I victories, the Lady ’Lopes volleyball squad carries a four-game win streak into tonight’s first-ever campus home game against a Western Athletic Conference opponent.
The atmosphere at GCU Arena might not be on par with a Michigan-Ohio State or Stanford-Cal game — but the 7 p.m. WAC matchup against little-known University of Missouri-Kansas City marks another step in the University’s athletic evolution.
Tonight is just a slight taste of the feast to come with D-I games hosted on campus.
The volleyball opponent is probably unfamiliar to the average fan. The Kansas City Kangaroos are less known in NCAA athletics than some of the non-conference teams GCU defeated on the road earlier this season, such as Providence and Dartmouth.
The reshaped WAC seems ripe for rivalries to develop. Women’s volleyball coach Kris Naber, in her 19th season, said the team really has no idea what to expect with much of its schedule against first-ever opponents.
“We knew that each match, we were just going in blinded,” Naber said. “You can review film, you can look at stats, but you really don’t know what you’re going in to. The level of play, the level of athletes, the atmosphere, everything is different.”
Naber said she continues to prepare the team by making players “uncomfortable” in practices, simulating hostile game environments as best she can. Her other objective is to ensure that WAC opponents understand more about GCU and the University’s athletic tradition, “whether it’s how we present ourselves or how we play on the court.”
Last season, the Lady ’Lopes finished 24-6 overall and qualified for the NCAA Division-II West Regionals. Heading into the inaugural D-I season, junior libero Mackenzie Phelps earned WAC preseason all-conference honors.
Phelps was named WAC player of the week honors after setting an all-time conference and GCU record with 52 digs in a road win against Central Connecticut State on Sept. 13. Senior middle blocker Lanie Muys earned the same honor the following week with 22 total kills in home wins over Arizona Christian and Louisiana-Monroe.
“Our main goal this season is to compete,” Phelps said. “We hope to surprise a lot of people, as we have already done in the past, and stay focused throughout the whole season.”
Last year, Texas-San Antonio (21-9) and Utah State (21-9) finished atop the WAC women’s volleyball standings. However, neither is a member of the WAC this season.
In addition to Kansas City, the ’Lopes play seven of their nine remaining home games against WAC challengers, rotating between GCU Arena and Antelope Gym.
According to Naber and multiple GCU players, November matches against CSU-Bakersfield could turn out to be the start of a heated rivalry. Phelps and some of the other returning players lost to Bakersfield in March in a Southern California sand volleyball tournament. Unlike many WAC foes, the ’Lopes have at least been introduced to Bakersfield. But indoor is a different game than what they experience in the sand.
Senior outside hitter Kaitlynn Ausmus said the team carries a “drive and fire” to prove they are among the best squads in the WAC. Returning the favor to Bakersfield is an example, she and other players said, of their competitive spirit.
“We have such a great opportunity to be Division-I…we’re not a D-II school competing in D-I anymore,” Ausmus said. “We have to compete with these teams now, and now we’re with them. We are D-I.”
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.