The future is bright for the SIU volleyball team.

Yes, the Salukis are young with just four returning players from last year’s team. Yes, the learning process can be long and sometimes painful.

But watching SIU compete Tuesday on the Davies Gym floor against Middle Tennessee State, it was easy to see some of the possibilities this team has and where the program is headed.

Taylor Pippen is a star in my book. She had 16 kills on 37 attacks with five errors in SIU’s five-set loss to the Blue Raiders and was 9-of-18 with two errors through the first three sets.

As the lone sophomore on SIU’s roster, she is a great compliment to senior outside hitter Jessica Whitehead, whose standout prep career at Murphysboro High School is well-documented.

Six-foot setter Meg Viggars also had a nice night with 10 kills, 12 digs and four assists. The freshman from England is a three-time national club champion and represented Great Britain in beach volleyball at the 2008 Junior Olympics.

But I also understand where SIU coach Justin Ingram is coming from when he talked about not using youth as an excuse for a mediocre season in the news conference after the match.

At some point, all teams have to grow up and together. Certain things become routine and then it’s just a matter of execution.

SIU is 1-3 and will play three games in the Kansas State Invitational Friday and Saturday before returning home Tuesday to face Saint Louis. The combined record of the team’s opponents (Siena, Kansas State and Southeast Missouri State) is 6-3, with 3-0 Kansas State the marquee matchup.

The Salukis have a good team with some fight and a side order of resilience. SIU dropped the first two sets to Middle Tennessee State before rallying to force a fifth set that could have gone either way.

The ability to finish sets and sustain momentum will be key for this team moving forward. SIU will acquire experience as the season goes along and the Salukis could be a dangerous team by the time the Missouri Valley Conference tournament begins Nov. 28.

It’s also nice to know that the energy level inside Davies Gym hasn’t diminished despite the change in coaches. It’s always been a loud place to play, but the general closeness of Tuesday’s matched upped the intensity to another level.

Overall, I think Ingram is on the right track with SIU. The Salukis may take their share of lumps this season, but the pieces are in place for long-term success.

And I can’t wait to see it.

PETE SPITLER is a sports reporter for The Southern Illinoisan. He can be contacted at 618-351-5073 or pete.spitler@thesouthern.com.

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