Sophomore Hannah Kaminsky tallied 38 assists and 13 digs in two matches on Saturday.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Despite two stellar sets against the country's premier competition, the Saluki volleyball team fell in matches against No. 11 Illinois and Long Beach State at Huff Hall on Saturday to conclude the Illini Classic.
No. 11 Illinois 3, Southern Illinois, 0 | 10 a.m.
Southern (0-2) started Saturday with an early-morning match against the 11th-ranked Illini (2-0), and the Salukis came out firing on all cylinders. Led by a lethal offensive attack that hit .467 in the first set, SIU took the lead at 7-6 and eventually pushed that to a five-point lead at 19-14. The Illini responded, however, as they managed to push the game into a tie at 22-22 before taking the set 25-23.
"We came out pretty hot," said SIU head coach Justin Ingram. "Offensively, we were doing things that we know we can do. It looked like one of our scrimmages. Toward the end, though, the wheels started to come off. Illinois is a team that isn't phased by a close score. Good teams will always make you win the match; they're not just going to hand it over to you."
After not having an attacker hit below .500 in the first set, the Saluki offense took a step back in the second set as the high-powered Illini took over. SIU fell down early but fought back within two with the Illini leading 10-8. However, Illinois rolled on the backs of hitters Jocelynn Birks (12 kills, .455) and Ali Stark (10 kills, .333) to a 15-5 run to close the second set 25-13. It was much of the same in the third set, where Illinois took the match with a 25-12 victory.
"We came out in the second set and compiled a few errors in a row, and before you know it the spread was too great," Ingram said. "You can't recover against some of these top teams. It's incredibly tough once the spread is more than a few points."
Leading the way for SIU were junior Taylor Pippen (9 kills, .389), sophomores Meg Viggars (8 kills, .217, 14 assists, 4 digs) and Hannah Kaminsky (17 assists), and freshmen Andrea Estrada (7 kills, .462) and Abby Barrow (5 kills, .333).
Long Beach State 3, Southern Illinois, 1 | 5 p.m.
The Salukis (0-3) won an exciting first set against the 49ers (1-2) that saw 20 ties and five lead changes, but LBSU turned on the jets in the last three sets to take a 3-1 victory.
In that first set the Salukis posted a three-point run to take a 6-5 lead over the 49ers, but from that point onward no team lead by more than one point until SIU took the set, 26-24. Southern had their backs against the wall with LBSU at set point at 24-23, but the Salukis caught a break on a service error and an attack error before Estrada put the 49ers away with a set-ending kill. Estrada and Pippen were the offensive strongholds for Southern early on, as they tallied four kills apiece in the first set in which SIU hit .233 as a team.
In the following three sets, though, Southern's offensive prowess dipped as LBSU's size on the net proved to be too much to handle. The 49ers had 8.0 total blocks, which includes 10 block-assists and three solo blocks. The 49ers were relentless on the attack as well, as they ended up with four in double-digit kills en route to 25-14, 25-18 and 25-15 set wins.
Estrada and Pippen led the way again on the attack with 10 and eight kills, respectively. Kaminsky and Viggars also played their part in setting up SIU's hitters. Kaminsky put up a double-double with 21 assists and 10 digs and Viggars had a respectable line of five kills (.267), 14 assists and eight digs.
Southern leaves the Illini Classic 0-3 on the 2014 season, but the level of competition this early could prove to be a catalyst for the rest of the season.
"Those were all three very talented, well-coached teams that we played," Ingram said. "And then on our end, we're incredibly young and still learning. The best thing about this tournament was the fact that we got to see our strengths, we got to see us play well. We also saw where we need to put some work in."
Next for SIU is a midweek road trip to Middle Tennessee State on Tues., Sept. 2. The Salukis are looking to avenge a five-set loss at home to the Blue Raiders in 2013.
"We went five with (MTSU) last year at home, so we're excited to play at their venue and put some things together that we've been working on," Ingram said. "It's still early; however, we feel that we can rally in the next day to get prepared."