CARBONDALE – Maybe it’s youth.
Maybe it’s a sense of drama, but for the fifth straight match the Southern Illinois University volleyball squad played five sets. There was nothing easy about it, but SIU prevailed over the University of Tennessee-Martin Tuesday 25-22, 25-19, 12-25, 21-25 and 15-10.
It’s the first time in school history five straight matches have gone to five sets.
“I know it comes as a shock guys, but we played five,” said SIU coach Ed Allen. “What did you think? I thought we’d play five.”
The problem, the match probably shouldn’t have gone five sets.
The Salukis weren’t spectacular in the first two sets, but they were solid in all phases of the game. That went south the third set. The Salukis were never in the set, losing 25-12.
“I was OK with the first two sets,” Allen said. “I was really disappointed with first ball contacts in the third set. We just did a really poor job, and of course everything stems from that. You give them momentum. They’re pressuring you with every swing they’ve got because of it.
“There are too many errors. You look at the third set and the fourth set and I think there were 11 errors in the third set and 17 errors in the fourth set. That means you only have to score eight points yourself. That’s an area we have to continue to improve upon.”
Things disintegrated to the point where the Salukis struggled to put serves in play at critical times.
“There were a couple times we asked them to serve the ball in,” Allen said. “That is clearly a zone we give them. I don’t care what you have to do, the ball has to be in. And, we commit two serving errors on it. Step back there and serve it underhand if you have to, the ball has to be in.”
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Yet, somehow the young, short-handed Salukis regrouped in the fifth set, prevailing 15-10. Although after the third and fourth sets, it wasn’t clear the Salukis would be able to regroup.
“This is a team that is slowly gaining confidence,” Allen said. “It’s slowly beginning to play for longer stretches of time with confidence, but, it struggles with it. So, everytime it faces adversity like it did in the third set where you got pounded. You have to let that go sometimes and be able to play with the same kind of confidence you started the match with.”
SIU was short-handed in the match as Alex Washington is sidelined with a foot injury. She was on the bench wearing a boot. Allen said she is being examined later this week and her status is up in the air, even conceding it could be a season-ending injury.
And, in the fourth set, the Salukis lost defensive specialist Kat Wagner with a concussion. She was struck in the head by a deflected serve.
Yet, the Salukis started the fifth set strong, taking a 5-2 lead on Rachel Maguire’s tip. Twice the Salukis built four-point leads on kills by Hannah Becker and Lyndsey Paulsen, but the Skyhawks tied the match at 9-9.
A Maguire kill gave the Salukis a 10-9 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. After a UT-Martin serving error, Laura Rojas ran off three straight points, including another Paulsen kill to nail down the victory.
Becker and Maguire led SIU with 15 kills apiece.
“Hannah Becker is a kid that tied for the lead in kills and she’s playing her third position in about two weeks,” Allen said. “She’s played left, she’s played middle, she’s played right. She didn’t even get a chance to practice on the left until late yesterday.
“She went from taking 20 minutes of practice to playing a match over there. She’s kind of the unsung hero because she has to plug a spot everywhere she’s at. We’re about out of players.”
The 6-5 Salukis go back on the road this weekend, playing in a tournament at Tennessee Tech.