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Taylor Eldridge | The Wichita Eagle | November 28, 2017

Wichita State will host in NCAA Tournament for first time

Wichita State will make its 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 11 seasons

For the first time in program history, the Wichita State volleyball team will host in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament Friday and Saturday.

Thanks to a 28-3 record, 20-match winning streak, undefeated American Athletic Conference championship, and the program's highest RPI ranking, the selection committee decided to award Wichita State home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the tournament.

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Wichita State (28-3) will play Radford (25-4), the Big South champions, on at about 8 p.m. Friday at Koch Arena, following the match between Kansas (22-7) and Missouri (20-11) that starts at 6 p.m. The two winners will meet on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16. Tickets can be purchased on GoShockers.com.

"I held it together on senior night, but I actually shed a couple of tears when it (was announced)," WSU senior Mikaela Raudsepp said. "This is such a huge experience and such a huge honor for us to be apart of. I couldn't ask for a better team to experience this with."

The Champions Club burst into applause Sunday night when the Shockers were unveiled as the tournament's No. 16 seed. Although Wichita State felt it had a deserving case, it is rare in the college volleyball world for a mid-major to host.

MORE: Penn State unanimously ranked No. 1 in final AVCA poll

Wichita State will make its 10th appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 11 seasons and in coach Chris Lamb's experience, regardless of how competitive the Shockers feel they are they have always been sent on the road. Even when WSU was a nationally-ranked team, it was sent to a regional No. 1 seed on four occasions.

This season the Shockers had just one top-25 victory (over Creighton) and Lamb knew that would be the biggest criticism on selection Sunday. But for this year at least, WSU's body of work was enough.

"I get that top-25 wins should matter and we only had one this year," Lamb said. "But we also don't get as many opportunities as a lot of those guys in the big conference and someone should also weigh that. Clearly the committee did that this year.

"It's just nice to see they were able to take a look at us here and say, 'Let's give the Shockers a chance.'"

WSU players said they were hopeful, but also knew the history they were up against.

MORE: Penn State's championship path, upset specials and more bracket reactions

"We were actually joking in the locker room about where we were going to be sent," Raudsepp said. "We thought it was a long shot, but I think every one of us had a feeling deep down that this was a possibility."

The team's six seniors all erupted in cheers and hugged each other when the announcement was made. They have come a long way from their freshman season when they were part of the only WSU team that failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in the last 11 years.

"Abby (Lehman) and I looked at each other and we almost started crying," senior Emily Hiebert said. "It was an amazing moment. It felt like all of that hard work had all paid off. It's so cool that we all get to do this together."

Now given the opportunity, Wichita State volleyball will try to capitalize.

"They always talk about having teams host in the first round that can draw well," Lamb said. "I hope Shocker Nation can come through and show up for both nights of volleyball and send a message that this isn't a bad place to stop once in a while."

This article is written by Taylor Eldridge from The Wichita Eagle and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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