In two weeks of practice, coach Justin Ingram said the team has focused on what happens on its side of the net.
Ingram said the coaching staff has put precedence on hitter rhythm and set tempo to make sure the two line up. He said the team will play a much faster game this season.
Ingram, who was announced as head coach in January, will start his first Saluki season today against Eastern Michigan in the Memphis Invitational.
SIU has won each season opener in the last six years.
Ingram has 13 years of Division I coaching experience and coached the Arkansas State Red Wolves for the last three years with a combined 60-33 record.
The Salukis finished last season with a 9-18 record and went 3-15 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Out of the nine teams in the Valley, SIU was picked as sixth in the preseason poll by MVC coaches.
After today’s games against Eastern Michigan and Memphis, the Salukis will play Austin Peay Saturday. SIU hasn’t played Eastern Michigan in 21 years and leads the series against Memphis 12-5 and are behind in the series against Austin Peay 3-4.
Senior outside hitter Laura Thole said the tournament, which includes three matches, will be an opportunity for the team to get some mistakes out of the way before conference play begins.
Thole said the team has worked primarily on basics in practice.
“We’re going to get really good at a few things instead of being average at a lot of things, which I think is a great way to think of it,” she said.
Quick sets and hits have been a priority in practice for the last week, Ingram said.
Thole, who played in every set of all 27 matches last season and led the team with 346 in kills, said a quicker game will set up the hitters with more opportunities the other side won’t expect.
Playing with quicker sets can be challenging, but Ingram said they are working on keeping up the tempo with fewer errors.
“The time it takes to get from the setter to the hitter takes shorter time … the set is lower so it is more difficult for attackers to hit those kinds of sets,” he said. “But at the same time it is extremely difficult for opposing blockers to close the block and get over the net by the time our hitters hit it.”
While the team is transitioning to a new coach, freshman defensive specialist Mary Bogdanski is transitioning to collegiate play. She said she has been working on using angles to pass instead of the midline passing she was used to in high school.
Ingram said the players who stayed during the summer did weights and conditioning work, as well as open gyms.
The team lost no starters from last season, so Ingram said he expects the returning players to lead the team.
Some of the girls haven’t played with each other as long as others had.
Thole said the team has tried to bond before the season begins with team dinners made from recipes found on Pinterest.
Bogdanski said team bonding has helped her transition to college and her teammates have helped her find her classes.
Many of the seniors have lived and played together for their whole collegiate career, so this season means a lot to them, Thole said.
“We want to get to the MVC tournament and get as far as we can,” she said.