Volleyball drops two, still in playoff hunt

By Gus Bode

Saluki volleyball lost its eighth straight game, but the team could still make the conference tournament with a little help.

“We’re always thinking about the playoff picture. That’s the ultimate goal,” said junior setter Rachael Brown. “There’s going to have to be some weird stuff to happen, but it’s still possible.”

SIU (9-14, 3-11 Missouri Valley Conference) lost an important match Saturday at Davies Gymnasium against Indiana State (13-13, 5-10 MVC), which now sits in a tie with Drake for the sixth and final playoff spot. That came after Friday’s loss to Illinois State (17-10, 9-6 MVC) by the same 3-1 margin.

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“We’re getting close, unfortunately those don’t go to wins,” head coach Brenda Winkeler said. “A lot of tight sets again, but we just made some unforced errors.”

Junior setter Rachael Brown goes for the ball Friday during a match against Illinois State University at Davies Gymnasium. The Salukis lost to the Redbirds 3-1, despite their season high of 16 blocks. – Isaac Smith| Daily Egyptian

The Salukis held an 18-13 edge over Illinois State in the first set, but the Redbirds scored the last five points in the set to make the score 25-22. After a second-set loss to Illinois State that went into extra points, the Salukis took the third set 25-23 with a .150 hitting percentage, their best of the weekend.

SIU bowed out of the match with a 25-20 loss in the fourth set. The Salukis had a season-best 16 blocks, but they were out-dug by Illinois State 70-57.

“Blocking-wise, I thought we blew the world away. That is something we‘ve been working on in practice,” Winkeler said. “I was disappointed in our defensive effort … Illinois State dug things off their fingernails tonight.”

Toward the end of the second set, Winkeler was tagged with a yellow card after arguing a non-call on a possible double hit by an Illinois State player.

“I can’t really comment on the officiating,” Winkeler said. “It’s a judgment call whether a person two-hits a ball or not, and you can’t really argue their judgment.”

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Things didn’t get any better for the Salukis Saturday as they dropped another 3-1 match to Indiana State, which moved into a tie for sixth after they swept Evansville on Friday.

“I don’t really know what the problem was,” said junior outside hitter Laura Thole. “It just seems like we’re playing mediocre volleyball and the people that we’re playing aren’t.”

SIU dropped the first two sets 25-20 and 25-23 but won the third 15-21 behind junior middle blocker Alysia Mayes’ six kills. She finished with 12 kills and a .296 hit percentage.

The Salukis came out flat in the fourth set and lost 25-13. Indiana State hit for a .344 hit percentage, while SIU hit only .033.

“You look at the offense numbers, and outside of Mayes and (Sarah) James, we really didn’t have any offense,” Winkeler said. “Thole did a good job with the number of balls that she had, but it’s tough. Indiana State played really hard on defense.”

James finished with nine kills and a .412 hit percentage, while Thole had 12 kills and nine digs.

The Salukis tried several different formation changes due to sophomore defensive specialist Caitlin Schumacher’s injury. Those changes included sophomore outside hitter Jessica Whitehead’s career-first  back-row play, but she was pulled by Winkeler after the second set.

“I’m not an excuse maker, but we’re still getting used to positions and not having Caitlin in the back row,” Winkeler said. “It’s just adjustment, and it’s too bad it’s so late in the season to have to do that.”

SIU will travel Friday and Saturday to face fourth-place Wichita State and second-place Missouri State. The Salukis will need to win at least two of their last four games to stay in the playoff hunt.

 

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