Salukis clinch three seed in MVC Tourney

Salukis clinch three seed in MVC Tourney

By Tyler Dixon

 

After winning two matches this past weekend, the Salukis were able to grab the third seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

SIU welcomed Illinois State University Friday for “Spike Out Hunger” night, and Indiana State University Saturday for the final regular season match of the year as well as senior night.

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The first set caused problems for the Salukis in both matches.

Friday night, the Salukis and Redbirds were tied at 20 in the first when Illinois State scored five straight to go up one set to none.

SIU won the next three sets in route to a 3-1 victory, but the win had its fair share of adversity. The Salukis had substantial leads in the second, third and fourth sets, but allowed the Redbirds back into each game. They won by narrow margins; 25-20 in the second set and 25-21in the final two sets.

Coach Justin Ingram did not downplay the win against conference foe Illinois State.

“Every conference win is a big win, no matter who the opponent is,” Ingram said. “We have had a lot of historic wins this season.”

Sophomore middle blocker Taylor Pippen led the way for the Salukis against the Redbirds with 12 kills and a 450 hitting percentage.

Senior outside hitter Elly Braaten said the team turned it around after the first set and played well the rest of the match.

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“We were mad after the first set; no one wants to lose the first set,” Braaten said. “We were ready to go in the second one, made a few adjustments, got back on the service line and put it on them.”

Morale was high after the win against Illinois State, but the Salukis could not overlook the Sycamores on senior night.

“Tomorrow is senior night. That’s kind of scary, my last game in Davies,” Braaten said. “Give it all you have and we’re going to take on Indiana State.”

Indiana State was the kind of opponent that teams do not want to play on senior night. The Sycamores had nothing to lose, with no hopes of making it to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.

The first set was a forgettable one for the Salukis.

They fell 25-18 in the opening game, but were able to rebound in the second and third winning 25-18, and 25-16.

The fourth set was a rollercoaster for both teams. The fourth game alone had 10 ties and four lead changes. SIU looked as if it was going to win the set when they had match point at 24-23, but the Sycamores stood tall. Indiana State was able to squeak by with a 28-26 win to force the match to a deciding fifth set.

Six more lead set changes occurred in the final, as the first team to 15 points wins the match. After being tied at 13, the Salukis won the next two points to win the match and chop down the Sycamores.

Senior outside hitter Jessica Whitehead led the Salukis with 17 kills in the win.

Freshman setter Meg Viggars had arguably the best weekend of any player on the SIU roster as she had 22 kills and 25 digs in the two Saluki wins.

Whitehead said she stayed strong in front of her teammates, but the emotions finally hit her after the match Saturday.

“With these other two, Elly (Braaten) and Emily (Less), we’ve been through a lot,” Whitehead said. “Different assistant coaches, different head coaches and it’s like we got through the whole four years together and didn’t quit.”

Ingram wants his team to celebrate the senior night win, but get back to work before the team leaves Wednesday for Wichita, Kan. The team’s first match is 5 p.m. Thursday against the No. 6 seed Bradley University Braves. The tournament wraps up Saturday afternoon.

Ingram said he knew his team would have to get used to a new system, but when they came together, they could beat anyone.

“I am proud of the team,” Ingram said. “We started the season rocky because we were learning but we knew once it started clicking that the sky is the limit.”

Tyler Dixon can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 269.

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