by Todd Marver, Daily Vidette Senior Staff

Illinois State’s volleyball season could be divided similar to a three-course meal.

The appetizer portion has concluded with the end of the Redbirds’ non-conference schedule coming Tuesday night with a three-set victory at home over the Loyola Ramblers at Redbird Arena.

And the entrée begins Friday at 7 p.m. with the start of conference play against Missouri State in Springfield, Mo. ISU will travel to Wichita, Kan., Saturday to take on the Wichita State Shockers at 7 p.m.

“Both have really great traditions,” ISU volleyball head coach Melissa Myers said. “Wichita State has been dominant and Missouri State has had a long history as well. They are two teams that are in the top three or four in the conference every year.”

Dessert, however, does not come until Nov. 24, when the Redbirds open play at the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  

Missouri State holds a 7-3 record with a three-match winning streak. ISU has faced off with MSU 83 times, attaining a 43-40 all-time record. The ‘Birds defeated MSU in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals Nov. 25, 2010.

Wichita State has earned a 6-4 record, claiming victory in six of its last eight matches. WSU has a 23-30 overall record against ISU in 53 all-time meetings.

“[Missouri State and Wichita State] are going to be tough to play on the road and we know that going in,” Myers said. “The last two years we played them pretty tough. We took Wichita State to five [sets] last year and pushed Missouri State to the limit, but we have not been able to get either of these teams on the road in a long time. It is going to be tough, but we are looking forward to it.”

The Bears return an All-American, MVC Freshman of the Year and three-time first-team all-conference honoree from a 21-9 team last year with a 12-6 Valley record.

Wichita State, 21-8 in 2010 with a 14-4 Valley mark, returns four starters and a total of nine team members.

Myers believes the Redbirds’ three pre-conference tournaments on the road have helped the squad prepare for MVC away matches.

“We have certainly been on the road a lot and that is going to help us prepare for these road matches in the Valley,” Myers said. “I think we played at some good venues and we are getting used to the travel, so that has been really beneficial in terms of our preparation for the Valley matches. To be a championship team, you have got to be able to win on the road. These road matches have prepared us for that.”

Redbird sophomore and outside hitter Angela Rego believes ISU’s non-conference competition allowed the squad to get a taste of MVC play before it actually began.

“We have been seeing all different types of competition that we will see in conference including the height and strength that we see at the top of the conference, but yet the scrappy defense, heart and desire from the other teams in our conference as well,” she said.

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