SIU volleyball thinks tough

By Gus Bode

The Salukis may have won only seven matches last year, but one could never tell from looking at the 2004 schedule.

Sonya Locke’s sophomores will have the steepest learning curve of their young collegiate careers, squaring off against six 2003 NCAA Tournament teams – three of which received votes in the USA Today/American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25 poll at the end of the season.

Conference foe Northern Iowa, which SIU will play twice, finished 2003 at No. 18, Pittsburgh finished No. 26 overall and Dayton ended at No. 36. Despite this, Locke said it is not likely the toughest schedule she has ever put together.


“It has its challenges, but I don’t know if I would say it’s the toughest,” Locke said.

It will definitely be the toughest stretch for current Saluki players, most of whom are sophomores. In addition to the ranked and almost ranked teams, they will also face a total of four games against NCAA tournament qualifiers Southwest Missouri State, Nicholls State and Murray State.

Particularly brutal will be the Pittsburgh Classic at the end of September, when SIU will face Pittsburgh and Dayton back-to-back. The Salukis seem a bit out of place, especially against two teams that won a combined 52 matches in 2003, but Pittsburgh head coach Chris Beerman said he’s happy to have them.

“They didn’t have a great year last year, but they have everybody back,” Beerman said. “I think they’ll be competitive.

“Overall, I think you try to balance your tournaments anyway; you try you have a good mix of teams. I think we have a good mix.”

SIU may be in the lower portion of that mix, but Locke knows the tougher the team, the more her players will improve. She wants the difficult non-conference schedule to prepare for the loaded but underrated Missouri Valley Conference.

Locke has always maintained the MVC is underrated, and may have been backed up by the NCAA giving the Valley two NCAA tournament spots in 2003.


“Contrary to what people think about the Missouri Valley, it is not an easy conference to play in,” Locke said. “It definitely deserves a higher ranking than it gets amongst all the other conferences.”

Because of that, Locke has never taken Indiana State, let alone Northern Iowa, lighter than she would a Big East team like Pittsburgh.

She thinks the tough non-conference game will be a decent midterm to prepare for the MVC final exam – and she hopes her team will pass.

“I don’t think by any means we bit off more than we can chew,” Locke said. “It just is going to be a matter of, ‘Have we matured enough to the point we’ll be able to handle it?”