Spt_ISU_mb_9/20, SIU hosts ISU – both of them

By Gus Bode

Indiana State and Illinois State invade Davies as the Salukis resume conference season.

During last week’s road swing, the SIU volleyball team had to deal with hotels, 4 a.m. arrivals and an unfamiliar playing surface that nearly knocked out its best player.

But this weekend, there will be no surprises.

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The Salukis (7-4, 1-1) are hoping this weekend’s home matches against Indiana State (5-5, 0-2) and Illinois State (6-3, 0-2) will give them the shot of adrenaline and familiarity they need to end their two-game losing streak.

SIU was marred by defensive woes during its road losses Saturday and Tuesday, as well as a lack of effort and energy – ailments most players blame partly on travel and said will not be a problem now that they can play at home.

“Being at home will definitely alleviate problems with travel,” said setter Britten Follett. “This weekend we have our fans and we have the home-court advantage, so the other teams will have to travel to our gym and deal with all the factors we had to deal with the last two matches. And we have to take advantage of that this weekend.”

The Salukis are in the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference pack at 1-1 and see this weekend’s home games as a chance to get over that hump and win while they can before they are forced to hit the road again.

“They’re very important wins for us, especially since we’re at home,” said middle blocker Lindsey Schultz. “We need to get as many conference wins at home as we can because it’s hard to get conference wins on the road.”

Although the team’s players may be more comfortable and confident at home, head coach Sonya Locke is not. She said playing at home can be dangerous if the team gets too comfortable and assumes a home win is guaranteed.

“When you’re in friendly surroundings, things seem easier,” Locke said. “No one will come in here and say, ‘we’re going to lose.’ If anything they’re going to work harder to win, so we have to work harder. You have to work harder at home.”

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Whether Davies Gymnasium is an asset or a liability this weekend, SIU still has to worry about Indiana State and Illinois State – two teams that Locke said are better than Wichita State, the only conference opponent the Salukis have beaten this year.

Locke said the two teams are very similar, and since her team’s greatest worries are on its side of the net, she’s not devising any specific game plans.

“They’re a good team, they’re well coached and they have a great tradition year after year after year,” Locke said of Illinois State, later stating the same about Indiana State. “If you win against them, you have to beat them. They’re not going to give you anything.”

Illinois State, in particular, should give SIU fits, if for no other reason than history.

The Salukis have not beaten the Redbirds since 1990, but there has never been a greater opportunity than this weekend to finally pick up a win.

Illinois State has only five upperclassmen on its squad and its best player, Erin Jones, will be “used sparingly” this weekend because of stomach problems.

Redbirds’ head coach Sharon Dingman said if SIU beats her team, it will be because the Salukis are mostly seniors while Illinois State is mostly freshmen. She even named the two players she’s worried about the most.

“They’re a more mature team than we are and their seniors play like seniors” Dingman said. “Kristie Kemner is one of the quality players in our league, and Lindsey Schultz is a senior who is obviously having her best year.”

SIU has not beaten it’s other opponent for a while either. SIU has not defeated Indiana State since 1998, but the Sycamores, like the Redbirds, are on a losing streak and are winless in the MVC this season.

Illinois State’s and Indiana State’s records are deceiving, however. Both teams have lost to No. 7 Northern Iowa and Bradley, both of which are at the top of the conference.

Locke has been drilling her team on defense all week in hopes of bringing the squad, which has struggled on that side of the net for the past few games, up to conference caliber.

SIU claims to have improved its defense by leaps and bounds in the past week, though it is still struggling with a few rotations. Follett said, for some reason, her team can’t seem to perfect its rotation to the net after she serves.

But one thing the Salukis will not have any problems this weekend is attitude. SIU will not take either of its opponents lightly the way a few team members said it did Tuesday against Tennessee-Martin.

“We’re back in the conference, so you can’t afford to take them lightly,” Kemner said. “We need to bring the intensity back.”

Reporter Michael Brenner can be reached at [email protected]n.com

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