CARBONDALE — SIU's challenging 2017 volleyball schedule includes nine matches against teams that finished with a top-100 RPI last year and five that reached the NCAA Tournament.
The Salukis return their top-three hitters from a season ago for new coach Kari Thompson, as well as nine letterwinners. SIU went 21-12 overall and 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. Senior outside hitter Andrea Estrada was a second team all-conference pick last year after leading the team in kills (358) and aces (33).
Former coach Justin Ingram bolted for Illinois-Chicago.
Thompson went 102-98 in six years at North Dakota State, including 66-38 in the Summit League. The Bison reached the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Tournaments.
The Salukis open the season against five straight top-100 RPI opponents from 2016, beginning in Oxford, Ohio. SIU will take on defending Conference USA champ Western Kentucky Aug. 25 at the Miami (Ohio) tournament, followed by Northern Arizona and the host Redhawks. Miami (Ohio) went 24-7 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Thompson's home premiere is set for Aug. 27 against Arkansas State, which finished last season No. 55 in the RPI. SIU finished 71st in the RPI.
SIU then travels to Murray State, the winner of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, before heading to a two-day tournament at Western Michigan. The Salukis take on Oakland Sept. 8 and Western Michigan the next day.
SIU returns home to face Southeast Missouri State Sept. 12 at the SIU Arena before traveling to the Notre Dame Shamrock Invitational Sept. 15-16. The Salukis are not hosting a home tournament this season, so the game against the Red Wolves and Redhawks will be their only contests at the arena.
The tournament in South Bend, Indiana, features matchups against Central Michigan, Notre Dame and NCAA Tournament participant Michigan State. Central Michigan went 11-17 last season, while Notre Dame went 22-10.
SIU will open MVC play at Bradley Friday, Sept. 22, and at Illinois State Sept. 23. The Salukis' home conference opener is set for Monday, Sept. 23, against league newcomer Valparaiso. The Crusaders finished 15-19 overall and 6-10 in the Horizon League (sixth place) last year and have seven newcomers under 16-year coach Carin Avery.
Avery is 354-151 in 16 seasons as Valparaiso's head coach and 409-175 all-time, with three league championships and three NCAA Tournament berths.
The MVC tournament is scheduled for Nov. 23-25 at Illinois State.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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