MVC race still on despite an idle SIU

By Gus Bode

Indiana State hits road to play one of Valley’s best, worst

As the Salukis walked off the Davies Gymnasium floor Tuesday with their jerseys soaked in sweat accumulated during a five-game slugfest with Evansville, they enjoyed having sole possession of sixth place in the Missouri Valley Conference – if only for one night.

SIU (6-15, 4-6) was tied for sixth-place in the MVC with Evansville and Indiana State, but moved one match ahead with Tuesday’s 3-2 win against the Purple Aces.

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The Salukis don’t play again until Oct. 26 and will have had six days off before hosting Murray State. Evansville (10-12, 3-7) will also be on a six-day hiatus until they travel to play Western Kentucky.

With SIU and Evansville idle this weekend, Indiana State has a golden opportunity to break its now seventh-place tie with Evansville and even pass the Salukis.

But the Sycamores (7-10, 3-6) will have to do it on the road at Bradley and Northern Iowa; two teams that are worlds apart.

Bradley (7-13, 1-8) lies in the depths of the Valley in a last-place tie with Drake. Indiana State defeated the Braves 3-2 at home Sept. 25 and leads the all-time series 23-21.

The Sycamores will have to contain Bradley’s Lindsay Stalzer. The 6-foot-1 middle blocker has lived up to her 2004 preseason all-conference billing, devastating opponents with an MVC-best 4.83 kills a game.

UNI (13-6, 7-2) is tied for second-place with Illinois State, and swept Indiana State Sept. 24 in Terre Haute. Indiana State hasn’t beaten UNI since 1997 and the chances of the Sycamores walking out of UNI’s West Gym with a win Saturday seem extremely slim, at best.

The Panthers had won 74 consecutive home matches before Oct. 1, when Wichita State snapped what was the longest active win streak in the nation. The streak is the second longest of all-time. Penn State holds the NCAA Division I record with 87 consecutive wins from 1995-2000.

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“We are the underdogs,” said Indiana State head coach Julie Krofcheck. “I would rather be the underdogs at this point with a team like UNI. The pressure is on UNI not to lose to Indiana State right now.”

The fact that Indiana State is even in the hunt for a playoff birth is unbelievable when you consider its .166 attack percentage, better only than Drake’s .132.

But whatever the Sycamores have lacked offensively, has been supplanted by defensive specialist Kelly Spisak.

Spisak is averaging 5.80 digs a game, first in the Valley and ninth in the nation.

“She’s doing a tremendous job defensively for us, allowing us to throw the ball back over the net,” Krofcheck said.

After Saturday, Indiana State will have seven conference matches remaining, including a showdown at SIU Nov. 12.

“We’re scratching the bottom to work to get into the tournament,” Krofcheck said.

Following Tuesday’s win against Evansville, SIU head coach Sonya Locke said she was dissatisfied with some of the Salukis’ defensive execution, something she hopes sharpens by the time Murray State comes to town Tuesday.

“The biggest thing is that we have just neglected to react to our blocking schemes,” Locke said.

Five of the Salukis’ remaining eight conference matches are against teams that are ahead of them in the standings – Creighton, Northern Iowa, Illinois State, Wichita State and Southwest Missouri State.

SIU lost its first meetings with four of those five teams, defeating SMS at home Sept. 17.

“If we’re going to make some waves against some really good teams in our conference, we need to get better,” Locke said.

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