Salukis fight their way back to finish 1-2 in Saluki Invitational

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

The Saluki women’s volleyball team refused to walk away from the Saluki Invitational Tournament without a win.

This afternoon, the Salukis earned a hard-fought victory over the Alabama State Hornets during their final match of the Saluki Invitational tournament held at the Banterra Center. The Salukis handled the Hornets in yet another five-set match, rallying from a two-set deficit to take the 3-2 victory.

The Salukis, in just ten games, have improved their record to 5-5, tied for the previous season’s number of wins.

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“Inside of three weeks, we’ve won as many matches as we’ve won all of last year. There’s tremendous movement in what we’re trying to accomplish,” head coach Ed Allen stated.

The Salukis entered day two of the event coming off of two losses on Friday, the first to the IUPUI Jaguars and the second to the University of Memphis Tigers. 

Following last night’s match, the Salukis looked to improve their ability to play high-intensity level consistently throughout a match, and although they weren’t able to execute in the beginning of the match, they were able to find a way to win. 

“I’d like to see us more prepared to start a match than what we’ve been,” Allen commented. “[But,] I’ve been pleased with the fact that [they] still battle. Regardless of how poor things are on the floor, they still have made an effort to try to put things together… and ultimately compete to win in five.”

Alabama State came out strong in the first two sets of the game, tackling the Salukis 25-16 and 25-20 before the Salukis found their momentum.

The Hornets’ energy didn’t slow throughout the first set, as an early 9-4 run put them up 16-6, while the Salukis struggled defensively. Alabama State’s offense recorded 16 kills in the first set compared to Southern’s 10. 

SIU’s junior middle blocker duo Lindsey Paulsen and Hannah Becker worked offensively to keep the Dawgs in the game, however, with Paulsen putting down three kills and Becker two for the set.

“We have been pleased with our middle production,” Allen stated following the game. “Lindsey has done a nice job and has hit for high percentages fairly consistently… and Hannah is doing a decent job of blocking.”

Southern fought right along with the Hornets during the second set, the score back-and-forth between the two teams for nearly the entire game. The Hornets, however, finally made a 7-1 run to put them up 21-15 late in the set that would secure them the win.

Alabama State’s senior outside hitter Krysta Medearis put down five kills for the set, while for the Salukis, senior setter Alayna Martin and junior setter and outside hitter Rachel Maguire put down three each.

Headed into the third and fourth sets, the Salukis were able to find some momentum deep into the match to even play with the Hornets. The Salukis finished set three on top at 25-21 and put the Hornets away in set four 25-14. 

Sophomore defender Katy Kluge gave the Salukis a small lead early on in the third set, serving three consecutive aces and scoring off a back row swing to put Southern Illinois up 11-7.

The Salukis continued to push forward this set, two kills from Washington and one apiece from Maguire and Martin gave the Salukis a 20-15 lead late into the set which helped them take the win. 

The Salukis dominated again in the fourth set, a strong offensive front lead by Sheridan helping the Dawgs to a set total of 14 kills, averaging at a .242 clip compared to Alabama State’s 8 kills.

Southern Illinois made a powerful push during the set, breaking away from the Hornets after back-and-forth rallying to finish the point at an eleven-point difference.

The Salukis, having rallied their way back into the game, weren’t going to settle for a loss to the Hornets. Powerful play at the net, including two consecutive blocks from Martin, with assistance from Paulsen and Becker, helped Southern take the 15-8 win.

In the back row, freshman Abi Fitzpatrick dug up 17 balls during the match, while senior defensive specialist Laura Rojas lead the team with 18. 

“Abi has been out of practice for the last two weeks… we put her in to she what she could do and she responded incredibly well,” Allen commented. 

The Saluki head coach was also pleased with Rojas’ performance.

“Laura has been very consistent as our libero,” Allen stated. “[She] passed the ball reasonably well and [has] done a better job stepping up vocally as well.”

Following the match, Allen stated that he is both pleased with his team’s ability to compete, yet still looks for improvements to come.

“There’s been a tremendous movement in an understanding of how to play the game at a higher level,” Allen complimented his team, “but it’s got a long way to go. And the good news is, we’ve got awhile for that to happen.”

The Salukis, having earned their fifth win today, will look to beat last year’s win record during their game this upcoming Tuesday, September 17. Southern Illinois will face the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks in Davies Gym, with the first serve set for 6 PM.

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25

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