Volleyball gears up for last road trip of the season

By Gus Bode

Four games remain for Saluki volleyball in the 2011 campaign and any hopes of a playoff run have to go through what head coach Brenda Winkeler calls the toughest road trip of the conference season.

“Everything about this road trip is hard, from the travel to the competition,” Winkeler said. “Once you get there, it’s the longest in-between travel partners as well. It’s a difficult, physical road trip.”


SIU (9-14, 3-11 Missouri Valley Conference) will play their final road games of the season Friday and Saturday when they take on fourth place Wichita State (15-9, 9-5 MVC) and second place Missouri State (18-7, 11-3 MVC). Both teams swept the Salukis when they came to SIU Oct. 14 and 15, which could mean trouble for a Saluki team that needs to win at least two of its last four games to stay in the race for the final MVC playoff spot.

“We’re focusing on it one game at a time, one win at a time,” defensive specialist Caitlin Schumacher said. “We need to just focus on getting the little things together so we can come together and get a win.”

Schumacher comes back from a concussion she suffered after she collided with senior right side Amanda Arnold during practice two weeks ago. Winkeler said Schumacher will help the defense that struggled in losses to Illinois State (17-10, 9-6 MVC) and Indiana State (13-14, 5-10 MVC) last Friday and Saturday.

“(Schumacher) takes some of the pressure of passing,” Winkeler said. “She’s also a quicker person in the back row.”

Sophomore outside hitter Jessica Whitehead played in the back row for the first time of her career last weekend, but she was pulled after the second set of Saturday’s match against Indiana State because she committed eight errors.

“She had a good week just working on some things. She had to take a deep breath and get right back into things,” Winkeler said.

SIU will face a Wichita State squad that comes off a win against sixth place Drake (9-20, 5-10 MVC) Saturday, which helped the Salukis stay in the playoff picture.


Wichita State’s shocker libero Sarah Waldorf was named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week after her 6.75 digs per set last weekend.

“(Wichita State) has big middles that like to run around everywhere,” junior setter Rachael Brown said. “We’re going to have everyone really follow their hitters and get a big block and defense around them.”

Second place Missouri State is on tap for the Salukis Saturday, and the only teams to defeat the Bears are first place Northern Iowa (26-1, 14-0 MVC) and Wichita State.

Missouri State setter Carly Thomas was named the MVC Player of the Week after she recorded two consecutive games with at least 50 assists and 20 digs.

Missouri State middle blocker Kaitlin Jaeger grabbed MVC Freshman Player of the Week honors after she had 24 kills and a .347 hit percentage against Drake and Creighton last Friday and Saturday.

“That’s what makes both of these teams tough; there’s no real weaknesses,” Winkeler said. “With blocking and defense, we can’t cheat and leave someone alone to double-team somebody else.”

SIU lost its last eight games but is still in the playoff picture with four other teams: Drake, Indiana State, Evansville and Bradley. If Drake and Indiana State lose their last three games, SIU would need to win two games to force a tiebreaker situation, but Winkeler said the playoffs weren’t the focus during practice this week.

“We want more intensity on defense,” Winkeler said. “The players said it themselves that we’re playing mediocre, and the teams coming in are playing better and much more intense than we are.”