Salukis finish strong in Tennessee Tech Invitational

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

This weekend, the Southern Illinois Salukis women’s volleyball team competed in the Tennessee Tech Invitational tournament, finishing 2-1 in the two-day event after 13 sets of play.

Southern Illinois (8-6) played their first game of the tournament on Friday, dropping a match in four sets to the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders. They responded from this, however, by rallying to a five-set victory over the Tennessee Tech University Golden Eagles, which gave them the momentum to finish match three as well, 3-1 over the Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks.

The Salukis, having recorded their sixth win over the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks on Tuesday, headed into the weekend with a two-game winning streak.

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This weekend was the Salukis’ final weekend of tournament play, having been their fourth two-day tournament event of the season so far. 

GAME 1

The Salukis dropped their first match of the tournament 3-1 to MTSU (4-7) on Friday night at Cookeville, Tennessee.

Both Southern Illinois and Middle Tennessee both opened up play with an aggressive start. Sets one and two of the match were back-and-forth, but the Blue Raiders found a way to overpower the Salukis 27-25 and 25-23.

In the first set, both teams rallied but weren’t able to find an early lead. MTSU, however, was finally able to pull away on a 7-2 run to give them a 22-18 advantage before the Salukis fought back to tie the game at 24-24. 

A pair of kills from Blue Raiders junior outside hitter Urte Neimantaite and freshman right side hitter Kayla Henley allowed Middle Tennessee to take the first set. 

The Blue Raiders came out much stronger in the second set, taking an early 6-0 lead before the Salukis were able to get on the board. Southern Illinois trailed in the set until they were finally able to tie the game at 20-all. 

Juniors Rachel Maguire, a setter and outside hitter, and Lindsey Paulsen, a middle blocker, lead the Saluki offense for the match with four kills each. In addition, the pair recorded a block against the Blue Raiders during the set.

Despite the strong performance at the net, the Salukis weren’t able to find a win to claim set two.

Though much of the beginning of the third set was back-and-forth again between the two teams, the Salukis made a large 8-2 run to put them up 19-10 over the Blue Raiders. MTSU would only score one more point during the set while committing multiple errors, allowing the Salukis to take set three 25-11. 

The Salukis remained powerful at the net as well in this set, recording two back-to-back blocks from Paulsen and senior setter Alayna Martin. 

In the fourth set, SIU wasn’t able to find momentum for a fourth win, dropping the set 25-18. MTSU pushed away from the Salukis from their 16-12 lead to finish the match.

Defensively, Maguire lead the Salukis with 15 digs. Martin was right behind her with 13 digs of her own, putting up 21 assists as well to record a double-double. 

Becker lead the Saluki offense with 11 kills for the match, hitting at a .150 clip.

GAME 2

Moving forward into day two, the Salukis took on the hosting Golden Eagles for their first match of the day. Working to avenge Friday night’s loss, the Salukis powered through yet another five-set match to claim a 3-2 victory. 

Southern Illinois opened up the match with a powerful 25-12 finish in the first set over the Golden Eagles, maintaining the lead for the entire set. 

The Salukis hit at a .464 clip for the set compared to the Golden Eagles’ .065 percentage. SIU’s middle blockers, Paulsen and senior Emma Baalman, combined for seven kills, Paulsen with four and Baalman with three. 

Despite their strong start, Southern Illinois struggled in the second and third sets, dropping both to Tennessee Tech 25-19 and 25-21. 

The Golden Eagles hung with the Salukis for the second set, the largest point difference only being at a three-point deficit, until Tennessee Tech was able to push away from a 19-all tie for the win. 

The beginning of the third set went very similarly, with the Salukis and the Golden Eagles battling point-for-point. TTU, tied with SIU at 15-15 in the middle of the set, was finally able to pull away with a 10-4 run to take the third set. 

The Salukis wouldn’t be satisfied with a loss, however, and found their momentum to finish out sets four and five, 25-23 and 15-13. 

To open up the set, the Salukis found themselves at a 14-9 deficit, Golden Eagles’ junior outside hitter Ali Verzani put down three kills early on to give them the advantage. 

To bring them back in the game, freshman defender Abi Fitzpatrick troubled the Golden Eagles’ defensive by serving two consecutive aces. 

It was a combination of strong offensive efforts from Maguire, junior outside hitter Savannah Sheridan, and Martin, however, along with hitting errors on behalf of the Golden Eagles that allowed the Salukis to finally tie the game at 19-19, and make their final push to take the set.

Headed into the deciding fifth set, the Golden Eagles took a six-point lead over the Salukis, looking to finish the match, but the Salukis weren’t willing to back down. Southern Illinois made a 9-1 run to finish the set 15-13. 

In this last sequence, Sheridan was able to put down three kills, with junior opposite hitter Kyra Hunter tallying two herself.

Maguire recorded a kills-digs double-double for the match, putting up 11 kills along with with 13 digs. Martin as well recorded a double double, tallying 19 digs along with 35 assists. 

A total of 28 digs from senior defensive specialist Laura Rojas lead the Salukis in the back row, while Sheridan, who recorded 18 kills hitting at a .464 percentage paved the way for the Salukis on offense. 

GAME 3

For their final match of the tournament, the Salukis battled through a tough four-set match to defeat the Western Illinois University Fighting Leathernecks 3-1.

The first set of the match was point-for-point for nearly the entire match, but Western Illinois was able to pull away with a set one victory, 25-23. 

After opening up with a 7-7 lead, the Salukis broke away to take the advantage mid-game, 15-10. The Fighting Leathernecks, however, worked to tie the score again at 19-all, which gave them the push they needed to finish the set.

The Salukis answered back to this with two consecutive set wins of their own, defeating the Fighting Leathernecks 25-20 and 25-17.

Play was again back-and-forth between the Salukis and the Fighting Leathernecks, with the largest split being no more than two points. With the score tied at 20-20, however, the Salukis, powered by a pair of kills from Paulsen and Martin and an ace from Maguire, pushed a 5-0 run to finish the second set. 

In the third set, the Salukis jumped out a little stronger, taking a 10-6 lead early on that they were able to maintain throughout the set.

Hunter totalled five kills just within the set, leading the Salukis offensively.

Leading into the fourth set, the Salukis would battle back from an early 15-5 deficit to claim a 26-24 win. 

A series of errors on behalf of Western Illinois and two blocks from a Maguire and Baalman duo brought the Salukis back into the game at 15-13 before the Fighting Leathernecks responded. 

Western Illinois’ sophomore right side hitter Mariah Mitchell was able to put down two kills and assist in a block to put the Fighting Leathernecks up 24-19. 

The Salukis, however, would finish out the game on a seven-point scoring run, with four kills from Hunter allowing the Salukis to finish out the match on top.

Hunter lead the Salukis in kills for the match, recording 15 total, while Sheridan followed with 13. 

Maguire recorded a triple-double for the match, tallying a total of 10 kills, 19 assists, and 24 digs. 

With non-conference play now over for for the Salukis, their first conference match will take place on Friday, Sept. 27 against the Bradley University Braves (4-7) at 6 P.M. at Peoria, Illinois. Southern Illinois will take the court again at home on Friday, Oct. 4, against the Drake University Bulldogs, with the first serve starting at 6 P.M.

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

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