Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Volleyball looks to correct mistakes to return to winning form

Volleyball+looks+to+correct+mistakes+to+return+to+winning+form

After jumping out to a scorching 12-4 start to its season, SIU volleyball has now dropped six matches in a row. Although their midseason slide could be attributed to facing several teams ahead of them in the Missouri Valley Conference standings, it comes down to them limiting the number of times the team shoots itself in the foot.

“I think eliminating some needless errors and to play the game probably a little more intelligently at times,” head coach Ed Allen said.

Entering the final stretch of their season, the team will look to revert back to the style of winning volleyball. But the extreme highs and lows of their season so far doesn’t bode well for the consistency that Allen wants his team to play with.

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“We’ve got quite a few ups and downs and we’re trying to flatline some of our play, so we don’t have quite the roller coaster in terms of our ability to execute,” he said.

Aside from service aces where they rank second, Southern doesn’t rank in the top four of any other offensive categories in the MVC. Their recent performances have displayed the disparity from the beginning of the year, being swept in three sets in matches against Northern Iowa, Drake and Murray State.

Losses against better teams in the conferences could be expected, but Allen expects more competitiveness out of his team.

“They’re matches that we think we could have competed a little better in…whether we’re talking about attacking errors or serving errors, or quite frankly service aces or the opponent getting service aces,” Allen said. “Those things have got to work to come down maybe by almost half in some cases.”

But during a rough stretch like this, it takes more than the coach’s words to get through to the team. Leaders on the team such as senior Tatum Tornatta have stepped up in order to help the players get through a bumpy road and continue to look ahead.

“Honestly leadership is probably my biggest role, I think, with my experience and then just, like, what I’ve been taught over the years, I just think that I can help younger girls and my peers just, like, move forward,” Tornatta said.

They know they need to stay patient in order to improve at all facets of the game like a better hitting percentage and stouter defense, but one thing they can’t do is beat themselves.

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“I definitely think discipline is a big thing right now and just letting the younger girls and, like, even us, understand that it’s not the end of the world and that all we really need to do is just play our game because right now we’re just playing one and a half teams, like we’re playing us and the other team,” Tornatta said. “So I really think just dialing in, staying disciplined, doing our role…all this stuff can get better.”

The defense has also been shaky of late and Allen sees several areas where the team needs to improve.

“I think it’s got to get better. I think one is we’ve got to touch more balls at the net…and then the second thing is we’ve got to be able to transition balls more,” he said.

Tornatta shared the key to play better as a unit defensively.

“I would just say being able to stay on your girl, going with blocking assignments,” she said. “…discipline on defense will help us win games.”

Regardless, the way Saluki volleyball has performed over the last two seasons is a complete turnaround from Allen’s first few years coaching the team. A lot of this is attributed to the struggles of the recruiting process with COVID.

“I mean we’re slowly but surely being able to gather talent…my first two years here, we had a program that needed talent and we weren’t allowed to recruit because of COVID,” Allen said. “So that’s quite an interesting balance to try to build a program and you’re not allowed to recruit.”

After three losing seasons to begin his tenure at SIU, Allen is looking for back-to-back years over the .500 mark. The program has since been able to add several players to elevate the team’s overall talent while developing players who have already been in the system.

Tornatta described how refreshing it was when reinforcements came in and allowed the team to focus on volleyball.

“Honestly, I think just having a good mindset and just, like, the younger girls coming in was a fresh start for us and then experience as well, I just think having those two things really allowed us to win more,” she said.

Senior Imani Hartfield described the learning curve as a team.

“I think we’ve just learned to play together and realized that we can’t win without each other, and we’ve learned to depend on one another,” she said. “So if one of us is off, we can always trust and depend that one of us will pick up the slack and just keep it going until we can get back on.”

Hartfield led the MVC in hitting percentage (.394) in 2022 and is one of the most dependable options at Allen’s disposal. Even in her fourth year, she is always trying to elevate her game and be as reliable as possible.

“I’m determined to grow even more, even though I’m a senior. I don’t have much to grow, but I’m gonna keep going,” Hartfield said. “Just make sure that I’m someone that my team can depend on when they need me.”

With freshman setter Ema Stermenska’s solid play, which has pleased the coaching staff, Southern has been able to run a formation that includes six hitters and two setters. With her shorter frame, Stermenska can be used in the back row while a taller player is better utilized in the front.

Junior Anna Jaworski has also been a solid contribution for the team. After ranking second in the country in assists in 2022, she has proven to be a strong setter for the Salukis.

But Tornatta and fellow senior Nataly Garcia continue to be anchors for Southern volleyball When they both reached 1,000 kills in the same match against Missouri State on Oct. 4, they became the 26th and 27th players in SIU history to accomplish the feat. It was a special moment the two longtime teammates shared on the floor.

“It was a very surreal moment because Nataly, I’ve been through three years with her and she’s one of my favorite people to play with,” Tornatta said. “So not only getting able to surpass a historic thing for our team, but being able to do it with my teammate was really important.”

It was even great for Hartfield who got the opportunity to see her longtime teammates reach the milestone together. She expects the most out of them, jokingly wanting the two to double the feat in the team’s next seven games.

“I think they’re freaking superstars. Like, I’m super proud of them and I hope they get 2,000 [kills] this season,” Hartfield said.

With the season getting down to crunch time, SIU players need to hone in on their fundamentals to finish the year strong. But with their experience and talent throughout the roster, they are poised to get back to their winning ways.

“I think once we develop the consistency, we can play with most anybody in the league, but we’ve got to continue to execute on a much higher level than what we have been,” Allen said.

Sports reporter Howard Woodard can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

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