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    Sept. 21, 2011

    By Bill Ford

    CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois volleyball team opens home Missouri Valley Conference play Friday and Saturday by hosting Drake and Creighton at Davies Gym.

    Friday, Sept. 23
    SIU vs. Drake, 7 p.m.
    Saturday, Sept. 24

    SIU vs. Creighton, 3:30 p.m.
    Location: Carbondale, Ill.
    Site: Davies Gym
    Match Notes
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    Southern Illinois Salukis (5-5, 0-2 MVC)
    Head Coach:
    Brenda Winkeler, Seventh Year (172-166 overall, 90-94 at SIU)
    Drake Bulldogs (4-10, 0-1 MVC)
    Head Coach:
    Tony Sunga, First Year (4-10 overall and at Drake)
    Creighton Bluejays (6-7, 1-0 MVC)
    Head Coach:
    Kristen Bernthal Booth, Ninth Year (147-108 overall and at Creighton)

    The Salukis' MVC home opener against Drake Friday night marks "Pack the House" night at Davies Gym. The Salukis are 17-11 all-time in conference home openers having split their six Valley openers at Davies Gym under head coach Brenda Winkeler. Friday will mark the first time SIU has hosted Drake to open its Valley home season.

    SIU leads the all-time series with the Bulldogs 31-18, although Drake has won four straight in the series. The Bulldogs come to Carbondale fresh off a 3-2 win over McNeese State last Saturday in the Creighton Classic that snapped a four-match losing streak. Drake dropped their MVC opener to the host Bluejays 3-0 to open the Creighton Classic last Friday before suffering another sweep to Alabama-Birmingham Saturday. The Bulldogs have hung their hats on defense early in the season, ranking in the top four in the MVC in both digs (16.00/set) and blocks (2.34/set). Drake has two players that average at least one block per set in senior middle blocker Michelle Reidy (1.04/set) and senior outside hitter Mikayla Sims (1.00/set) while junior middle Emily Heffernen averages 0.95 blocks per set. Five Bulldogs average more than two digs per set in defensive specialists Erika Price (3.75/set), Jadranka Tramoslijani (3.07/set) and Sarah Madden (2.45/set) along with setter Caitlin Johnson (2.58/set) and outside hitter Whitney Westrum (2.13/set). Westrum and Reidy lead the Bulldogs attack with average of 2.94 and 2.22 kills per set respectively while Johnson averages 9.15 assists per set.



    SIU trails its all-time series with the Bluejays 9-26 with Creighton winning the last 16 matchups. The Salukis haven't bested Creighton since taking both matches during the 2002 season. The Bluejays come to Carbondale a game under .500, but Creighton has won four out of its last five. Last week, the Bluejays went 2-1 in the Creighton Classic with sweeps over Drake and McNeese State before falling to Alabama-Birmingham in the championship match. Like Drake, Creighton is also one of the strongest defensive squads in the conference, ranking in the Valley's top three for blocks (2.45/set) and digs (16.70/set). Sophomore libero Julianne Mandolfo anchors the Creighton back line with an MVC-leading 5.59 digs per set while senior middle Laurel Sanford is second in the MVC with an average of 1.20 blocks per set. Sanford also leads the team with an average of 2.35 kills per set while junior setter Megan Bober averages 2.30 kills and 7.11 assists per set. The Creighton offense is evenly spread out as eight players average 1.31 kills or more per set.

    The Salukis dropped their MVC openers on the road at Northern Iowa and Bradley. SIU lost to No. 15 Panthers in three sets before surrendering a 2-0 lead in a five set loss to the Braves. Junior outside hitter Laura Thole led SIU with eight kills and seven digs against the Panthers while junior setter Rachael Brown added 19 assists and seven digs. Sophomore outside Jessica Whitehead posted a season-high 22 kills against Bradley while three Salukis posted double-doubles.

    SIU had three players record double-doubles in its five-set loss at Bradley Saturday as Rachael Brown (51 assists, 18 digs), Elly Braaten (13 kills, 16 digs) and Laura Thole (11 kills, 21 digs) each doubled up. Southern had three players record double-doubles in five matches last season, the last of which was against Drake Nov. 19, 2010 in Carbondale.

    Jessica Whitehead posted a season-high 22 kills with a career-high 54 attempts last week at Bradley. She moved up to sixth in the MVC with an average of 3.17 kills per set • Elly Braaten recorded her first career double-double last week at Bradley with a career-best 13 kills and 12 digs • Alexis Braghini has recorded a career-best six kills in three out of last four matches • Rachael Brown tied a career-best with 18 digs last week at Bradley. She also added 51 digs for her sixth double-double of the season • Laura Thole recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 11 kills and 21 digs last week at Bradley • Bailey Yeager has posted double-digit digs in eight out of 10 matches • Krista Menghini recorded a career-best five digs last week at Northern Iowa.

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