Seniors go out with an important win

By Aaron Graff, @AaronGraff_DE| Daily Egyptian

Three SIU volleyball seniors had their final appearances in Davies Gymnasium Saturday against the Drake Bulldogs. SIU won the match 3-0, and qualified for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

Three seniors, outside hitter Kat Agson, student assistant coach Sarah James and libero Alex Rivera, are expected to graduate at the end of the semester.

Rivera transferred from Western Nebraska Community College. She has played in 60 matches during her two years at SIU. She also has 961 digs and is on pace to finish top 10 in Saluki history. She said she was happy to go out on a win at home and clinch a bid in the conference tournament.

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“That’s the important thing here,” Rivera said. “It’s not senior night. We came here. We did work this weekend. We stuck with a plan. We were disciplined.”

Agson suffered a knee injury and did not play for the Salukis at all last season. Fans were chanting, “We want Kat!” during the majority of the third set, and she finally got to play as a Saluki when she came into serve the last point of the match, which resulted in a point for SIU.

“It was very exciting, especially because that’s the first game I ever got to play in as a Saluki with the jersey,” Agson said.

Despite the injury and not playing a lot, Agson said it was worth transferring to SIU from Western Nebraska Community College.

James played as a freshman in 2011 and redshirted as a sophomore. She said she experienced at least one concussion before college and two more at SIU, which ended her career. She spent two years as the student assistant coach.

“It’s really great to be a part of something,” James said. “Everyone was just so encouraging, outside of volleyball even, to get better and everyone was there to lift me up. It was really hard to not play anymore.”

Rivera’s family members from Puerto Rico surprised her at the match. She said they have not made all of her matches, but they have made the ones most important to her.

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“I think compared to everyone else, my family has put more mileage compared to any other family here,” Rivera said. “I feel very blessed. I have a family that has supported me for the entire journey. They’ve never thought, ‘She’s diabetic, or she got injured when she was in high school, or she doesn’t know English.’ They always thought I was going to be able to do it and make it. It was not only a recognition of my hard work, but also their hard work and support.”

Agson knew her mother would be in attendance, but it was still a shock factor because she had not seen her for so long. Agson said she barely even remembered her moment of recognition right after the match. She remembers hugging her teammates and running to hug her mom right after.

“I was just happy to see my mom,” Agson said. “ I haven’t seen her since spring break. It was literally like one of those things you see in a movie and you don’t hear anything. You’re just caught in that moment.”

The team treated James the same as the players and wrote her a nice note, decorated her locker and even gave her a crown.

“I really didn’t think it would be as hard since I’ve already played my last game,” James said. “But it was really emotional for me seeing the support of the whole team.”

Coach Justin Ingram said he is unsure who will fill in for Rivera at the starting libero role next season. He said the team already has five more defensive specialists, and he might recruit someone else.

“Each an every year is a special task of finding who is going to contribute at the highest level,” Ingram said.

Junior hitter Taylor Pippen is the only junior on the team.

“I think I’m ready to fill those shoes,” Pippen said. “The team has always kind of looked at me as one of the oldest since I’ve been here the longest, so I’ll be able to fill that role.”

The seniors have three more regular season matches on the road and the conference tournament. If they win the conference tournament, they will also qualify for the NCAA tournament before graduation.

Aaron Graff can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

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