SIU earns first MVC win

By Gus Bode

The SIU volleyball team huddled at the end of the bench without any coaches following a forgettable game four to discuss what had went wrong.

After taking the first two games in impressive fashion from Indiana State Saturday night at Davies Gymnasium, the Salukis had a huge letdown in games three and four to let the Sycamores (8-8, 3-4) back in the match.

Head coach Sonya Locke sat isolated at the front of the bench in dismay while the players rallied together on the opposite side.

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“At some points in time we’re a non-entity when it comes to them winning and losing,” Locke said. “It’s up to them.”

The Salukis (5-14, 1-7) got their groove back and rallied to score the final four points of game five to win the match, their first Missouri Valley Conference victory of the season. An ace by Monica Laird secured the 30-28, 30-18, 24-30, 18-30, 15-12 win and set off a wild celebration by the young SIU team.

But in the end, it all came down to that moment of isolation between games four and five for the Salukis.

“We needed some togetherness because we were starting to slack off and not play as hard as we knew we could,” said outside hitter Jen Pulliam, who had a double-double in the match with 11 kills and 10 digs. “We just basically had to bring it together and say, ‘Look, this is what we have to do; we have nothing to lose.'”

At 0-7 in the conference following a hard-to-swallow five-game loss to Illinois State Friday night (18-30, 30-21, 15-30, 30-24, 8-15), the Dawgs played like they had nothing to lose early in Saturday’s match.

SIU stormed back from a 24-18 deficit in game one with a 7-1 run on the strength of two kills and two blocks by Carrie Shephard to force a Sycamore timeout. The teams traded points from then on until a Holly Marita ace sealed the deal for the Salukis.

The Dawgs dominated in game two, committing just three errors and accumulating a hitting percentage of .379 while ISU hit .100 and tallied 10 miscues.

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But then came the letdown.

SIU looked like a completely different team, losing track of its defense that had played so well in the first two games in allowing the Sycamores to force a game five.

“I wish we would have taken them in three; I think that would have been a great boost to our egos,” Locke said. “But hey, we pulled out a really tough fifth game. That was as tough a fifth game as we’ve played since UNC-Charlotte.”

For the match the Salukis held Indiana State, which ranked third in the MVC with a .248 hitting percentage to just a .215 clip.

The Dawgs’ improved blocking was the main reason for the Sycamores’ poor hitting. Gathering 14 team blocks, the third best total of the season, the Salukis formed a stiff wall at the net led by Shephard’s eight blocks and Marissa Washington’s five.

Shephard and Washington also chipped in with 10 and 11 kills, respectively. Haley Hann led SIU with 15 kills to go with four blocks.

“It’s a really big deal for us, especially since we beat a higher-ranked team than us,” Pulliam said. “It gives us a lot of confidence because nobody really thought we could pull out this win.”

Versus Illinois State Friday night, the Salukis were back on the rollercoaster they’ve been on all season long.

SIU allowed the Redbirds to hit .257 in game one and .467 in game three, both losses for the Dawgs. The Salukis hit .067 and .152 in those games.

But in games two and four, both victories, SIU held Illinois State to .051 and .073 hitting percentages while hitting .351 and .152 itself.

“I just wish that we wouldn’t play on such a rollercoaster,” Locke said. “I’m not really sure what it’s going to take to change that. We just have got to keep working them hard and getting them into some sort of a rhythm.”

The Salukis were slaughtered from the start in game five, falling behind 5-0 and 8-2 before switching sides of the net. The Dawgs battled back to make the score 11-7, but that was as close as they would get.

Kelly Harman led the Salukis with her sixth double-double of the season, amassing 11 kills and 10 digs on the night.

SIU will be back in action Tuesday night when it travels to Murray State to take on the Racers.

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]

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