Nov 22, 2012
By Robin Thuringer
CARBONDALE, IL - The 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Volleyball Championship is set to get underway today -- Thanksgiving Day -- in Springfield, Mo. Six Valley teams have made the trip to Missouri State University for the chance to be crowned the leagues champion on Saturday and earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Southern Illinois will be making its 14th tournament appearance in 31 seasons, and the teams first since 2009.
The MVC boasts arguably one of the toughest mid-major volleyball conferences in the country. Last season, three Missouri Valley Conference teams were selected as part of the field of 64 teams to play for the 2011 NCAA national title. This marked the sixth straight season that multiple MVC teams were invited to the dance.
The pre-season poll accurately predicted the teams that would enter the 2012 tournament although the prediction of how each team would finish shows just how viable it is for any of the six teams to come out on top.
Northern Iowa was unanimously picked to win but finds themselves as the No. 2 seed, finishing two games behind No. 1 Creighton, which was picked to finish fourth. Picked second was host Missouri State, which enters the tournament as the lowest seeded team. Southern was predicted to enter as the sixth and final seed. The Salukis have remained near the top of the Valley standings throughout the season and will enter the tournament as the fourth seed.
Lets break down the tournament:
-Creighton (17-1 MVC) locked up the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Bluejays captured their first-ever MVC regular-season title, closing out on a 14-match winning streak. UNI (15-3 MVC) will be the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Both teams earned a bye for the first round of competition and will open play in the semifinals on Friday.
-Wichita State (13-5 MVC) will be the No. 3 seed facing off against No. 6 Missouri State (10-8) at 7:30 p.m. tonight
-No. 4 Southern Illinois and No. 5 Illinois State will tip-off the tournament at 5 p.m. later today.
Justin Ingram and the Salukis take on Illinois State today on ESPN3.
How the Salukis stack up:
-Southern's match with Illinois State is really a toss up. The Salukis and Redbirds have met twice this season and each has come away victorious. SIU hosted Illinois State back on Sep. 15. and convincingly put way the Redbirds in three sets. The teams met again just last Friday in Normal. The match was a back-and-forth scramble. Southern and ISU duked it out coming within two points from one another at match-point in the fifth set. The Redbirds were able to pull out the W.
-If Southern Illinois advances to the semifinals they will face Creighton on Friday. The Bluejays enter the tournament with only one conference loss- to the Salukis. SIU bested Creighton on Sep. 28 in four sets snapping a 19-match losing streak against the Jays.
-The Salukis only lost to two tournament teams this year, UNI and Wichita State. Both teams were able to hold off Southern in both their meetings this year. But if SIU topped Creighton and Creighton beat UNI and Wichita, then surely it is possible for the Salukis to have a chance against either team, isn't it?
-It will be important for Southern to get off to a quick start in any match they may have during the tournament. The Salukis are 17-2 when winning their first set of the match and 4-6 when they do not.
As the Salukis spend this holiday at the tournament and regardless of the outcome, they surely can be proud of themselves and thankful for head coach Justin Ingram and assistants Todd Nelson and Natasha Marquis.
The new coaching combo and the dedication of 12 student-athletes has turned around a program that only saw three conference wins last season into a squad that finished the regular season with the program's best record in 10 years at 21-8 and 11-7 in the MVC.
So stay tuned the next few days, you may be in for a treat.
**Both opening rounds and semifinal matches are available live online at ESPN3.com, while the championship contest on Saturday will be televised live on Fox Sports Midwest at 7:07 p.m.