Salukis clinch tournament berth

By Aaron Graff

SIU volleyball clinched a Missouri Valley Conference tournament bid for the third consecutive year with back-to-back wins this weekend.

The Salukis extended their win streak to four matches with an upset against the Northern Iowa Panthers (17-9, 11-3) 3-2 Friday and a three set sweep against the Drake Bulldogs (10-15, 2-12) Saturday.

“We’re feeling pretty good about the kind of production, the kind of energy and really the kind of consistency that’s happening,” coach Justin Ingram said.

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SIU took a 1-0 lead against UNI, but dropped the next two sets, despite having set point in the second set and being tied 24-24 in the third set.

“When you feel you’re right there, you can either let it crush you or you can keep that positivity going,” Ingram said. “I don’t think we were crushed by losing those sets. I thought that gave us confidence to push forward for yet another one.”

The Salukis won the fifth and deciding set 15-8. Ingram said the team controlled the set because of a stellar service game.

“We got back there and put it on them,” Ingram said. “We had two aces right from the beginning. A game to 15 with two free ones right away, any kind of point gap that happens in the fifth set is huge.”

Freshman outside hitter Abby Barrow led the team with 18 kills. She said the team practices setting the ball higher for her, which boosts her play.

“It just helps because I keep my head up high,” Barrow said. “The higher I get and the higher I can swing, the harder it is to play off of.”

Junior hitter Taylor Pippen started perfect through her first four hitting attempts, but said the Panthers adjustment with blocking lowered her efficiency. UNI defeated SIU 3-0 on Oct. 11, and Pippen said she did not want that to happen twice.

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“We’ve been talking about turning a corner, and I think we finally did,” Pippen said.

The Salukis stayed on track Saturday during senior night against Drake. Ingram said the team is ready for the conference tournament, but wants to build confidence during the final three matches.

“We were born ready,” Ingram said. “We were ready before the season happened. It’s an earned thing. Early, we weren’t earning it, and we didn’t deserve to be one of the top teams in the conference.”

Barrow led the team again with 12 kills for the third consecutive match.

The Salukis have three more matches before the tournament, none of which are at home. SIU is in sixth place in the MVC, and has not moved up the conference during the streak.

Salukis play Missouri State at 7 p.m. Friday and Wichita State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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

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