Experience, energy lead SIU to best start in school history

By Gus Bode

When the SIU volleyball team swept Indiana State last weekend, it forever etched the 2008 Saluki squad in the SIU history book.

The 9-1 record the Salukis had compiled to that point marked the best 10-game start in the history of the program. The team currently boasts a 9-2 record after a loss to Illinois State Saturday, which ties the best 11 game start of the 1984 volleyball team.

A main factor in the spike of success is the team’s hitting percentage, head coach Brenda Winkeler said.

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The Salukis lead the Missouri Valley Conference in digs with 16.89 per game and also boast a .223 hitting percentage, in contrast to a .186 percentage last season.

Winkeler said two of the most important players on this year’s team have been junior middle blocker Chandra Roberson and sophomore outside hitter Jennifer Berwanger. She said the two have been go-to players through the first 10 games.

Berwanger is currently seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference with 3.3 kills per game and sixth in the conference with 4.19 digs per game. Roberson, meanwhile, is third in the conference with 1.3 blocks per game and fourth in the conference with a .329 hitting percentage.

“They have been really been good for us,” Winkeler said. “We need some more people to step up as well, but Jennifer and Chandra are off to a good start.”

Winkeler also said senior libero Kristy Elswick has been one of the main components for success this season, despite the lack of publicity.

“She anchors the defense and keeps the defensive players in line,” she said. “She’s really helped with new people like (freshman) Lauren Blumhorst and (junior transfer) Caitlin Dugger on defense.”

The Salukis also boast one of the best serving games in the conference.

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SIU is tied with Drake for the conference lead with 1.41 service aces per game. Their great serving game was exemplified when junior outside hitter Kelsie Laughlin recorded three straight service aces in a match against Indiana State.

The 2008 season has been a far cry from previous incarnations of Saluki volleyball – the last time SIU finished the season with a winning record was when the team finished 23-10 in 2002.

This season, the team is on pace for 24 regular season wins.

Elswick said she was extremely pleased with how far the team has come since her freshman year.

“Being a senior and being here the last four years, I think I can really reflect on how different the people are on this team,” Elswick said. “They have the determination and focus that we didn’t have before. It’s nice to see how the program has grown here.”

Roberson said the energy of the team has been apparent to everyone who has watched the team play this year, which sets the 2008 Salukis apart from past teams.

“I’ve noticed this year that we get excited over every point we get,” Roberson said. “That was one of our problems in years before. We weren’t really getting excited over our points. This year, we’ve done a good job of that.”

Senior setter Brooklyn Robbins has also played an important role for SIU this season.

Robbins is second in the conference with 10.62 assists per game and has been able to optimize her hitters by putting them in the best position for an easy kill.

Senior setter Erika Bartruff said even the attendance at Davies Gymnasium has been better than previous years.

“Our home crowd has really stuck out to me,” Bartruff said. “The support we’ve got from students and citizens here has been really great.”

But the most important part of the record-breaking start, Winkeler said, is whether the Salukis can carry it with them through the rest of the season.

“It’s a great accolade for them, but it’s just a start too,” Winkeler said.

Stile Smith can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 282 or [email protected]

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