CARBONDALE, Ill. - Following a 20-13 season in which the Salukis were one win away from taking the Missouri Valley Conference title, the SIU women's volleyball team is back with a vengeance this year.
The team gathered for its first day of practice last Thursday, Aug. 7, and has been working diligently in preparation for the season. The team returns standouts Taylor Pippen, Alex Rivera, Hannah Kaminsky and Meg Viggars, to name a few, and welcomes six freshmen.
Last year, Pippen, Kaminsky and Viggars each earned All-Conference honors, and Kaminsky was named Freshman of the Year. This year's newest members are following in her footsteps and have stepped up to the challenge of playing elite-level volleyball.
"They know a lot about the game," Rivera said. "Sure, the level that we play here is higher than the one that you play in high school, but the skills are there, their focus is there, their initiative and willingness to learn and get better is there."
This year's team returns only three upperclassmen - Pippen, Rivera and senior Kat Agson - but the talent of the underclassmen and the experience of the elders help keep the team strong.
"What a great group," head coach Justin Ingram said. "The excitement level for not just this season, but just the opportunity to get some work in is over the top. People want to come in early, they want to stay late. The group is really united and is really pushing hard regardless of class."
After falling to Wichita State in the MVC title match (20-25,17-25, 18-25), the women are determined to make another run for the title. But in order to do that, they need to play at an even higher level than in years past.
"You have to say and communicate so much before the play actually happens," Ingram said. "If you're a silent team, it's very hard to play defense and cooperate together defensively. Communicating on defense is very hard and very taxing because you have to re-do it every single play or every single rally. But we're gonna do that, and we're gonna do it every time."
The level of intensity and competitiveness is high even just in a practice setting. According to Rivera, that's what will make the team successful this season.
"Last year we had a very good team, but this year we have more depth," she said. "In our practices, the level we're playing is like we're playing top teams in our conference."
The Salukis had their first experience in a match-like setting on Tuesday, Aug. 12 in the first scrimmage of the season. With constant communication, contagious energy and laser-like kills, the women faced off and proved their power and talent for the upcoming season.
"The first scrimmages are always fun because it's their first opportunity to put the jerseys on and keep score in a regular set format," Ingram said. "It's a first step of a few that we need to take in order to get ready for these first matches come late August."
The team will go head-to-head in its second scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m. at SIU Arena and again on Friday, Aug. 22 at 3:30 p.m. in SIU Arena.