By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pounding volleyballs in the middle of Kansas was far from where Elizabeth Field expected to enjoy her college experience.
Four years after finding her way to Wichita State, the former Santa Rosa High player is eating up the opportunity to compete with the nation’s elite college teams. Helping lead the Shockers to the program’s greatest season is the latest achievement for the all-conference scholar athlete.
“It was truly amazing. I would never give up this experience for anything,” Field said in the aftermath of Wichita State’s NCAA tournament loss to perennial power USC.
Reaching the Sweet 16 continues Wichita State’s ascent into the hierarchy of heavy hitting college programs. The Shockers’ sixth straight tournament trip was powered in large part by Field, second on the team in kills and blocks.
“This year she’s a leader. She had a great year last year as well, as just a second-year player,” said Wichita State coach and Sebastopol native Chris Lamb. “She’s everything a coach would want and keeps getting better.”
Once rough-edged and reserved, Field has blossomed on the plains into a polished player with a competitive streak. A three-year starter and twice All-Missouri Valley Conference player, Field is a sharp student of the college game, always working to improve.
“Every year you’ve got to prove yourself, and sometimes every practice,” she said. “Every year it’s a new group of girls and who knows.”
Well, Field knows.
Coming off her senior prep season, Field was not contacted by a single college. After attending a clinic at Empire Volleyball club at her coaches’ urging, Field showed enough raw talent to make the club’s travel team.
Wichita State called after Lamb heard about Field from longtime friend and Sonoma State coach Bear Grassl. Lamb founded Empire and Grassl is a longtime club co-director.
“She’s a great athlete, hard worker. She just didn’t have a lot of volleyball in her past,” Lamb said.
Awestruck by the attention, Field struggled to choose a college, with Sonoma State and UC Irvine also in the picture.
“It happened so fast,” she said. “I went to the school where I felt I would be the most successful in volleyball.”
Following a redshirt her freshman year, Field began to tap the talent those volleyball sages saw in her.
Earning a starting spot her first season, Field was among conference leaders in kills and blocks. She made the MVC All-Freshman team.
Last season Field was third in conference for percentage of successful kills and made All-MVC Second Team. She also was named a Valley Scholar Athlete.
This past campaign Field again was among conference leaders in kills, raising her total a third consecutive season. She repeated as an All-MVC Second Team selection.
A strong student as well, Field carries a 3.8 grade point average while majoring in chemistry.
The team returned from the regional in Austin to makeup exams and finals the next day.
Adjusting to life as a college student athlete matched Field’s adapting to life in Wichita. The city of 360,000 is about halfway between Topeka and Oklahoma City.
“It’s definitely a different place to live, different people, different lifestyle,” she said.
The pluses have been a friendly, small-enough campus setting to go with a successful volleyball program.
Entering the 2012 campaign, Field honed her hitting and court awareness. The fast and often furious college game puts a premium on hitting around defenders and quickness on blocks.
“We’re more active overall in the middle,” she said. “I’ve been working very hard on getting a good hand on the ball, but also making sure I can hit around the blockers in front of me.”
Field’s role as a middle blocker in the Shockers’ game plan is hitting kills farther from setters and roaming the front line, reading blocks on defense.
“She runs all over the place. It’s just a little bit of everything throughout the match,” Lamb said.
Even with her primary role as both scorer and defender, Field said teamwork is foremost to Wichita State’s success. “This is definitely a group that needs everybody working together to succeed,” she said.
Wichita State doesn’t attract blue chip high school players. What the Shockers coaches seek are young women willing to work hard to reach the NCAA tournament each season.
“We try to find the diamonds in the rough,” Lamb said. “You get girls who work as hard as Elizabeth and they help you get there.”
Goals for next season include a conference title and deeper NCAA tournament run. Such are the expectations for a Shockers squad that expects success.
At a university with a winning tradition in several sports, Field and players who arrived before and after her have made volleyball a Shockers source of pride.
“This group of girls has been part of something helping push this program forward,” she said. “It’s been a very long process of getting there. I’m just another little bit on the wall there.”