Salukis fight great heights with short squad

Salukis fight great heights with short squad

By Aaron Graff

Consider SIU volleyball the tiny, but dangerous team.

The Salukis have the shortest average listed height in the Missouri Valley Conference at slightly above 5-foot-7.

Coach Justin Ingram said height could be important, but how high the player can jump is more important. He said when a player hits the ball higher in the air, it comes down at a sharper angle and is hard to return.

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Senior libero Alex Rivera is listed at 5-foot-4, which is tied for the shortest on the Saluki roster. She said her height is both an advantage and disadvantage because she does not have the long limbs to hit everything, but she tends to be quicker than taller players.

“It’s hard for people who are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3 to get to their knees and go down to the floor,” Rivera said. “It’s not as hard for a person who is 5-foot-3. Once I bend a little, I’m so close to [the floor].”

Rivera played all 27 matches this season and leads the team with 438 digs. She has been named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Sophomore middle hitter McKenzie Dorris is listed at 6-foot-2, tied for the tallest on the roster. Dorris agreed with Ingram that jumping is more important, but height is still crucial.

“Even if you can’t jump that high, you’re still up there anyways,” Dorris said. “You get a better block, you can hit over people if they’re not as tall. It’s definitely an advantage.”

Dorris has played in 19 matches, with 16 starts. She is sixth on the team with 76 kills. She said it is most important for a front row player to be tall because they have to jump more than the defensive players.

Even though the team is the shortest in conference, it clinched a spot in the conference tournament Saturday with a win against Drake. Only six of the 10 teams make the tournament.

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Ingram said his team has more players who can reach 10 feet in the air on their jump than any other MVC team.

“I bet the height at which we play, meaning jump and touch, is the highest in the Missouri Valley,” Ingram said. “I would argue that we always have between four or five players that are over 10 feet out there. There’s nobody else in the Valley that has that.”

Illinois State coach Melissa Myers said she takes SIU just as seriously as any team, despite its height.

“You can have a smaller player that might be 5-foot-8, 5-foot-9, or 5-foot-10 and jump higher than someone who is 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, or 6-foot-3,” Myers said. “Their height above the net would be higher than someone who is taller.”

The Redbirds (20-5, 14-0) have the best record in the conference.

Myers said when she is recruiting she notices height, but in the end wants to recruit skilled players.

“They stand out more,” Myers said. “It’s easier to see the taller player, but you have to start to evaluate if that player is going to have the skill to take your team to the next level.”

Height might be the first thing one notices on a volleyball court, but Ingram and Myers agree it might not even be in the top five reasons a team is successful.

“Long and raw will not win against small and skilled,” Ingram said.

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

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