Team marks 20th win in season

Four seniors honored in final home match

 After knocking down the last point and kill of Saturday’s match, senior Laura Thole turned to celebrate a win with her team and fellow seniors in the last match at Davies Gymnasium.

“Getting any point is great, but the last one is sweet,” she said. “Just to turn around and look at your teammates, and they are all looking, it seems, right into your heart, it’s just the best feeling ever. It really is.”

Thole matched her career high with eight of her 20 kills in the third set of the Salukis’ (20-7, 10-6 MVC) win over Bradley (9-19, 3-14).

“It takes everything,” Thole said. “It takes great passes from (senior libero) Bailey (Yeager), great sets from (sophomore setter) Amy (Drabant), but I thought we did a great job executing across the net.”

The team could have notched its 20th win Friday but lost in four sets to the University of Northern Iowa (24-3, 14-3). Instead, the team marked the win during senior night. This is the first SIU team to earn 20 wins since 2002, when the Salukis went 23-10.

The Salukis celebrate after strong play during their game Friday against the University of Northern Iowa at Davies Gymnasium. SIU fell to Northern Iowa in four sets, which brought its record to 19-7. The team came back Saturday night to win against Bradley University on Senior Night in four sets. The win marks the Salukis’ 20th of the season and leaves SIU 20-7 overall and 10-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference with two games left in the regular season. This is the Salukis’ first 20-win season in 10 years. Sarah Gardner-Daily Egyptian

“It’s what they are going to remember,” said coach Justin Ingram. “Everyone remembers their last match at home.”

The Salukis kept pace with the Braves in the first set and tied the game 13 times until the final tie at 21. Two kills from Bradley led to an SIU timeout, and the teams traded points until Bradley pulled ahead with a kill from senior outside hitter Madelyn Ervin to win its first and only set of the night 25-23.

The Salukis bounced back to end the second set 25-17 with a .387 hitting percentage as they held the Braves to a .158.

The second set ended 25-17 with a three-point SIU run finished by a block from junior outside hitter Jessica Whitehead and senior middle blocker Alysia Mayes. Mayes contributed eight block assists to the team’s 15 blocks for the night.

Ingram said there would have typically been a bigger point spread with 15 blocks.

“We were getting touches but not handling those opportunities,” he said.

Bradley junior outside hitter Alise Tupuritis had five of her 19 kills of the night in the second set.

“The right front blocker, in our system, their responsibility is to get to the line, close the line out and press their hands into the seam,” Ingram said. “What was happening was we were very late to respond to that attacker, and we were late to the line.”

After adjusting to the left side hitters’ success in the first set, Bradley junior middle blocker Amy Angelos stepped up in the third set to bank seven of 17 kills. The Salukis were unable to slow her down, and she posted a .467 hitting percentage.

The third set was much like the first with multiple early ties. The teams were tied at 14 after an out-of-bounds SIU block. The Salukis went on a 4-1 run with kills from junior outside hitter Elly Braaten and freshman middle blocker Taylor Pippen.

Pippen posted no hitting errors in the match and finished with 12 kills and a .545 hitting clip.

SIU won the third set 25-23 with a kill from Whitehead after playing twice for set point.

The fourth set differed from the other three with five lead changes and nine ties. SIU pulled away with a 6-2 run and finished 25-20 with the final kill from Thole.

Yeager finished the night with 24 digs, putting her total number up to 1,355 and tying her for third in school history.

Senior setter Rachael Brown ended the night with an ace and eight digs, and Mayes had eight kills and eight block assists.

Northern Iowa

The night before the Salukis’ 20th win, the team fell to its second-place Missouri Valley Conference rival. The Salukis got swept in three sets the last time they played UNI on the road. SIU won a hard-fought third set Friday but couldn’t hold on to the fourth set and lost 19-25, 16-25, 29-27, 23-25.

SIU had a four point lead in the first set, which disappeared after an early UNI timeout when the Panthers went on a few multiple-point runs.

At the end of the set, UNI’s four-point run— all of which were scored from Thole and Pippen attack errors — was halted with a Pippen block. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Panthers went on to win 25-19 with a kill from junior setter Molly Turk. SIU ended with a .111 hitting efficiency.

“We can’t sustain that pressure from a team like Northern Iowa,” Ingram said of the multiple point runs. “They are not just going to let you off the hook and score four or five on your side.”

Ingram called a timeout in the second set when the Salukis were down by four. Thole chipped in a kill after play resumed, and SIU slowly crept closer to UNI. SIU would add a point, but Iowa would answer with two, and the team ended the set 25-16 on a final four-point run.

The Salukis fought back in a third set that saw nine ties and six lead changes.

SIU was up 20-13 before UNI began to get closer and Ingram called a timeout. Iowa went 7-1 after the timeout, which put it up 22-21. The teams battled back and forth and played for set point five times. SIU took the last three points — the last two off of blocks — and won the set.

Whitehead said being at home is an advantage as the crowd was very loud in the third set. She said the team kept talking to each other while playing set point to stay focused.

Whitehead notched five of her 17 kills in the fourth set, and she had only one of her seven errors during the set. She said she doesn’t think about the error when it happens and keeps playing for the next point.

In another close battle, the team lost the fourth set 23-25.

“Win or lose, it doesn’t matter,” Whitehead said. “We just wanted to fight hard … All of us had the jitterbugs, but we were just trying to work hard, go hard and go after everything.”

The Salukis will play Illinois State Friday and Indiana State Saturday in their last two regular season games.

SIU has a guaranteed playoff spot in the Missouri Valley Conference Volleyball Championship for the first time since 2009. The team ranks fourth in the Valley under Creighton, UNI and Wichita State.

Whitehead said the team hasn’t discussed the tournament yet and will just focus on the final two season games.

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