SIU volleyball back in action tonight at Davies

By Gus Bode

Hann predicts victory over visiting UT-Martin

For a team that has lost its last five Missouri Valley Conference matches by way of sweep, the SIU volleyball team is rather confident.

So confident that freshman outside hitter Haley Hann predicted a victory in tonight’s match with Tennessee-Martin, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions.

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“We’re going to win,” Hann said.

Hopefully this self-assuredness resides in the rest of the Salukis (3-13, 0-6) as they desperately need to get on track in today’s 7 p.m. tilt with the Skyhawks at Davies Gymnasium.

Off to their worst conference start in school history, even head coach Sonya Locke admits the young Salukis have progressed slower than expected, but she has seen improvement.

“I think our progress is slow, but I have seen some progress, and that’s a plus for anybody with a young team like ours,” Locke said. “We are just going to keep pushing them to get better and to be more disciplined.”

The Dawgs have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with rookie mistakes, hitting a combined .151 and committing 411 errors compared with their opponent’s .255 hitting percentage and 338 errors.

But SIU finds solace in the fact that it knows it has what it takes to get the season turned around.

But more importantly, the Salukis want to.

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“We are definitely working a lot harder in practice; we’re not down at all,” Hann said. “We know that we have the talent, and we know we can do it.”

Locke has been pleased with her team’s effort in the MVC, noting it has put up a good fight despite facing more experienced teams night in and night out. She is confident that in time, it will be her Salukis manhandling inferior and inexperienced opponents.

“I think that because they are in the learning stage there is a level of frustration that still exists that doesn’t really allow them to flow as well as we would like, but that’s going to get better with time,” Locke said. “Any time you are learning something, you are going to make mistakes. You just have to try to stay disciplined to get yourself to the point where you are in a flow and not struggling anymore.”

The Salukis have to look no further than tonight’s opponent to find a team with similar struggles.

Almost a mirror image on paper of SIU, Tennessee-Martin (2-15) lost six key seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. This year’s Skyhawk squad is dominated by nine newcomers – eight of who are freshmen.

But the similarities end there, according to Locke.

“Our tempo tries to be faster than what they typically run,” Locke said. “They have veteran outside hitters, which is different from what we have, and they have a veteran right side, which is different from what we have.”

Gone are All-OVC first-teamers Rachel Ahlers and Lindsey Vicknair, but UT-Martin is left with a little more in the tank than the Salukis, who lost all six of their starters after late season’s second-place finish.

Two All-OVC tournament performers return for the Skyhawks from last season – senior outside hitter Jamie Fitzwater and junior outside hitter Leigh Reiniche.

Reiniche currently leads the Skyhawks with 222 kills, and just behind her is Fitzwater with 219 and a .226 hitting percentage.

While Hann sees this game as a chance for the Salukis to get back in the flow, Locke is expecting the Skyhawks to put up a fight just as good, if not better, than any MVC team would.

“We don’t see it as a break at all because Tennessee-Martin is very comparable, or has been in the past, to teams in our conference,” Locke said. “We just see it as another opportunity to get better on the court.”

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]

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