Recruiting pays off for Saluki volleyball

By Tyler Dixon

Three high school volleyball players have signed on the dotted line and will make Carbondale their home next fall.

Abby Barrow, Anna Himan and Gabriella Shepherd each signed their National Letters of Intent to join the Salukis and help a program coming off a runner-up finish in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

The Salukis will lose three players from this season’s team come in May. Elly Braaten, Emily Less and Jessica Whitehead each brought something different to the team, and coach Justin Ingram said it would be hard to fill the legacy the three seniors will leave behind.

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“It’s always difficult to replace anybody, when you look at it in that term, you never really replace all the things that each person does for the group,” Ingram said. “That’s the tough thing.”

Along with the skills each senior brought to the team, the biggest was production. Ingram said he expects next year’s roster to be able to get everything working and fill in the gaps.

“The positive is I think the future’s bright here, there’s a lot of players currently on the roster and coming in this next season that are going to be able to handle the load,” Ingram said.

Barrow, an outside hitter from Metamora, is an exceptional athlete, Ingram said. He said she has great jumping ability. She will be one of the few faced with the task of taking the spots left by the departure of outside hitters Jessica Whitehead and Elly Bratten.

“When you go to a convention center and there’s over 100 courts and over 5000 athletes, she’s one that you’d see because her head when she jumps is higher than most heads,” Ingram said. “… Sometimes you have to go and watch just because of her elite athleticism.”

Ingram said Barrow participated in gymnastics when she was younger, which accounts for her balance on the court.

Barrow’s 831 career kills are third all-time at Metamora Township High School. Along with her physical skills, Ingram said Barrow has the support from her family, which will help her succeed.

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“The things that she’s doing both athletically, academically and in life, we’re fortunate enough to have her join our program,” Ingram said. “She’s going to add a lot of good quality things within the program.”

Himan, a middle blocker from Roland, Iowa, will be able to learn from MVC First Team All-Conference performer, sophomore Taylor Pippen.

Ingram said Himan’s height, as well as her ability to take her play to a higher level, is a big advantage.

“There aren’t too many players that are 6’2’’ that have their shoulders above the net consistently and have internal mechanisms or something that are pushing her to be better than she even thinks that she can be,” Ingram said.

Himan was a complete player in high school. In her senior season, she had 210 kills, 64 aces and 37 blocks.

Ingram said Himan is not only a great player, but ready to be part of the team.

Shepherd, a defensive specialist from Channahon, will join a back row that only has one-year experience in the MVC.

Ingram said the sky is the limit for Shepherd but he expects her to contribute to the team early.

Shepherd came to volleyball camp at SIU during the summer and met fellow recruit Barrow. Shepherd she said felt welcomed by the players that helped during the camp.

“SIU made me feel like it was home, I felt really comfortable there,” she said.

Both of Shepherd’s parents were Salukis but she said it did not have much influence on her decision. Shepherd said it was exciting follow the team’s run during the MVC tournament last week.

“They’re a really solid team and I’m excited to be able to come in and be a part of that,” Shepherd said. “Watching them play and do so well made me really excited for my future as a Saluki volleyball player.”

One player who will not have trouble producing is freshman setter Meg Viggars. Viggars started the season as a setter but was also used as a hitter.

Ingram said he will use Viggars as a utility player next season and in the spring will work on her setting and hitting.

“We need her to do everything, for somebody that young to be in a position where she has to help the team in so many ways, that’s a big responsibility but not doubt she’ll be able to do that,” Ingram said. “She’s a terrific player, I don’t think it burdens her at all to be in that position.”

Along with the three signees, Ingram said he plans to sign more during the next signing period, which begins in April.

Ingram said even with the new influx of players this season, he never saw the team as an underdog, which is credit to their historic season and showing in the conference tournament.

“We were picked preseason fifth this year, I certainly didn’t pick us fifth,” he said. “I picked us way ahead of that.”

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