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Salukis ramp up for loaded fall sports season
August 28, 2022
The Salukis are back on the field and on the court this fall, and each team has its own goals for the upcoming season. With a new athletic director at the helm, Tim Leonard, all teams hope to positively represent SIU athletics this semester.
Soon enough, SIU football will make their re-appearance on September 3rd with hopes of making a deep run into the playoffs this season.
Last season, Southern Illinois started its FCS schedule going 6-0 and climbed as high as #3 in the FCS power rankings. However, the Salukis finished the season going 2-4, and sophomore linebacker Branson Combs said the team got too comfortable.
“We saw some success and became too satisfied as to where we were,” Combs said.
Southern Illinois opens this preseason as the #9 team in the FCS, according to NCAA.com. Combs said the Dawgs feel no pressure with the subsequent increase in expectations.
This year, the emphasis will be on blocking out a lot of the outside noise. SIU football wants to take each week one at a time while getting better in the process.
“Regardless of who we’re playing, what our ranking is, or what we did the week before; it’s a new week and a new opponent. We know they’re going to play their best which is why we need to bring our best on the field,” Combs said.
The players want to get off to a hot start like they did last year, and they hope to continue that success through the late months. It may be tougher this year, due to the fact that SIU has to play FCS powerhouses like Incarnate Word, #1 North Dakota State, and #21 Northern Iowa this year.
“We’ve shown in the last couple of years that we can beat anybody. That’s a good feeling obviously and it’s good that this team has that experience,” Combs said.
Southern Illinois plays Incarnate Word for its first game of the season on Saturday, September 3. The following week, the Salukis play rival Southeastern Missouri State. If there is a game the team has circled, it’s War of the Wheel weekend.
The heated rivalry runs deep between the two teams. SIU won last year’s contest with little trouble, and they hope for a similar result this year.
“That’s always a big game for us. It’s a game we always want to go out and win so we can use it as a kickstart,” Combs said.
The Salukis’ women’s soccer team was first to compete this season. The Dawgs faced Lindenwood on Thursday, Aug. 18, at home and lost 2-0.
In the past two seasons, SIU women’s soccer left something to be desired, not winning a single game in the 2020 or 2021 season. However, after last year’s disappointing season, SIU decided to fire Grant Williams and begin a coaching search.
That led SIU to Grambling State’s Head Coach Craig Roberts. Junior forward Sam Dodd said Roberts has been the light at the end of the tunnel for the Salukis.
“I talked to some of my teammates recently and we’ve said it feels like a breath of fresh air. Finally, we’re getting the coach we know we deserve,” Dodd said.
According to Dodd, Roberts has the women participate in more team-bonding activities. He believes their play on the field will improve if the team plays for each other.
“In the past it felt like it was more about individual performances, but now you can feel a shift,” Dodd said. “Off the field, we have been doing all sorts of team bonding.”
Dodd said those activities include; spending time at Campus Lake, a team-only talent show, and spending nearly every meal together.
The coaching change seems to have had an impact, as the Salukis won every single exhibition in the spring pre-season as well as their one exhibition in the fall. Dodd said there is a belief system with this team that she hasn’t felt before.
“We know we haven’t had a whole lot of success in previous years, but this year it actually feels like we have a shot to win the conference,” Dodd said.
The SIU women’s soccer team isn’t the only group that hopes to boast a culture change. Last year, the Southern Illinois volleyball team ended the season on an abysmal 0-19 run. The Salukis didn’t manage a single conference win.
That being said, senior hitter Nataly Garcia thinks the team has reached its turning point.
“It just feels so different. This year, it’s just a different vibe. We are very positive,” Garcia said.
Last year’s club was critically young. The dawgs couldn’t match the experience that other teams brought to the court. SIU boasted multiple starting underclassmen, which could have been a reason behind the struggling record. But now, Garcia said, the team has felt its trials and tribulations, which will help the players succeed.
“What’s best is a mix of [upperclassmen and underclassmen] and we just didn’t have that last year. We have a better balance this year, so we should do better,” Garcia said.
Garcia said the team made serious changes this off-season to improve multiple facets of their game.
“Our ball control is much better this year. The new players that have come in should help us a lot,” Garcia said.
Whether it’s two teams hoping to recover the status of their programs, or one that has to face the wrath of lofty confidence from fans, each athlete believe they have the talent and guidance for them to go the distance at Southern Illinois.
Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at cdaily_deTo stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter
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