Sept. 24, 2003
By Lou Antoine
CARBONDALE, Ill. - They say it's good to be home. After nine straight road matches, Southern Illinois University (3-9, 0-2 MVC) hopes that will be the case when the Salukis return to Davies Gym this weekend to face Missouri Valley Conference foes Bradley (4-10, 1-1 MVC) and #10 Northern Iowa (9-2, 2-0 MVC) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. respectively.
"We haven't played at home in three weeks so we're just happy to be back in Davies Gym. They're two teams that are pretty established in our conference. We know that we're going to have to play really well in order to even come close to winning. They're two totally different teams right now. Bradley lost a lot of players from last year and Northern Iowa is returning a lost of players from their Sweet 16 team. The teams play two different tempos in a match. We'll have to do our best the next couple days to get prepared," SIU head coach Sonya Locke said.
While the two opponents play different tempos, Locke's focus is to keep her team on one even keel for both matches and over the course of the season to have a chance to reach the postseason.
"We need to develop a consistent level of play. We can't talk about playing at two different tempos, that creates inconsistency. Bradley has always been a good defensive team so we know they're going to scrap for everything they get. Northern Iowa is just solid all around. They have one of the best all-around teams, if not the best team, that we're going to see this year. UNI plays the game well and has a system that's almost foolproof. You have to be dominant all-around to beat Northern Iowa and their only losses are to #1 USC (defending national champion) and #18 Minnesota," added Locke.
"We're going to put forth our best effort and that's all we can do. If that gets us a win, that's what it took. We're going to try to get them to focus on the task at hand. Every match from here on out, whether it's a conference match or not, is important for the level of our development and whether or not we get into the MVC Tournament."
SIU beat SEMO Tuesday with double-double performances by Jene' Pulliam (career-high 15 kills and 20 digs), Kelly Harman (18 kills, 13 digs) and Haley Hann (14 kills, career-high 15 digs), a career-best 14 kills and 12 total blocks by Carrie Shephard and a career-high 61 assists by Holly Marita, who also tied a career-high with 17 digs. For the Salukis to win matches, Locke says what happened Tuesday has to be a regular event.
"You have to have an all-around game from everyone. One person will not win you a match. Our conference is too tough for that to happen. We have to have a complete stat line from four people on this team to win. We have to have a lot of people step up and produce for us to win," added Locke.
The win over Southeast Missouri State snapped SEMO's five-match winning streak over the Salukis. Will Tuesday's win provide some momentum for SIU's young team going into matches against two of the MVC's best teams?
"I don't know if we're mature enough to understand how to sustain momentum. That comes with experience. We just want them to take it one match at a time and focus their attention on the upcoming match. Don't worry about the next match. We need to direct all our energy to one match at a time and not save any energy for the next day," stated Locke.
Northern Iowa is tied for the MVC lead after wins over Indiana State and Illinois State last week. The Panthers have won the last 21 meetings dating back to 1993 and are 24-1 against SIU under Locke. Bradley split last week, beating Illinois State and losing to Indiana State. The Salukis swept Bradley last year and hold a 12-11 advantage over the Braves under Locke.
SIU is led by Harman (123 kills, 2.86 kills per game, 120 digs, 2.79 digs per game), Shephard (71 kills, 41 blocks, .93 bpg), Washington (.239 hitting %, 38 blocks, .86 bpg, 71 kills) and freshmen Marita (467 assists, 9.94 apg, 108 digs, 2.30 dpg, 22 aces, .47 aces per game), Hann (104 kills, 2.17 kpg, 15 aces, 35 blocks), Pulliam (68 kills, 57 digs) and Ashley Saverine (83 kills, 2.31 kpg, 101 digs, 2.81 dpg). Juniors Erica Miller (111 digs, 2.64 dpg) and Kelly Katricka (35 digs, 4.38 dpg) lead the SIU defense.