Saluki International players bump MVC trend

Saluki International players bump MVC trend

By Tyler Dixon

Three Saluki freshman volleyball players found a new home in Carbondale after they moved from their native countries to play college sports in the states.

Only two other Missouri Valley Conference teams include international players. Illinois State boasts players from Australia and New Zealand, while Missouri State recruited a player from Brazil.

Head coach Justin Ingram said the Midwest is a good volleyball recruiting area. He said his recruiting radius stretches from Milwaukee to Nashville and Indianapolis to Kansas. Most of the country’s top volleyball programs, such as the University of Texas and the University of Southern California, boast many international players, he said.


Yael Benjamin, Meg Viggars and Andrea Estrada are three of the nine freshmen on a Saluki volleyball roster that represents four different continents. All three players have also seen international success, which could bring a different dynamic to their new Saluki team.

Benjamin, a right side player from Israel, played for the Israeli national team and the Even Yehuda club team. Her club team won the national championship in 2010 and 2011, and she was named MVP in both tournaments.

Benjamin said the Saluki team has been very warm and accepting to the new players, and she’s ready for the season’s start.

“I’m looking forward for the team being the best we can be this year,” she said.

Estrada, an outside hitter from Columbia, competed on the Columbian national team. Estrada said she grew up in Bogotá, the capital of Columbia, which has a population of about seven million. She said she always wanted to come to the U.S. to play.

“Since I was like 9, I always wanted to come here and play college ball,” she said.

Estrada said her favorite part about SIU is the campus. “It’s better than it looks in the pictures,” Estrada said.


Viggars, a setter from England, was on the Newcastle Staffs club team, which won its under-14, under-15 and under-18 national championships. She was also on the 2008 Great Britain beach volleyball team at the Junior Olympics.

Viggars said she learned about America when she met a player from the University of Miami while training for the Olympics.

“She told me about America and how amazing it is, and I decided to come over here,” Viggars said.

She said she misses her family, but can still communicate with them through Skype. She said she is excited about the upcoming season, and it has been easy to get to know the team’s other players.

Viggars said her teammates, as well as the community, make all of the international players feel at home.

“It’s been really good. I love the girls,” she said. “It’s amazing just to play with them.”

Viggars said she expects her team to finish in the top three of the conference, but she wants to win.

Ingram said international players bring not only their athleticism to the team but their culture as well.

“I think it’s a different dynamic,” he said. “I think the group is going to benefit from learning about different cultures and learning about how different people grew up.”

Ingram said although his roster is freshmen-heavy, they don’t play as such. He said Saluki volleyball’s future is bright.

Viggars had only three words to say when asked what her favorite part of Carbondale was.

“My team, definitely,” she said.