|Redbirds prepare for second tourney|
|Written by Todd Marver, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Thursday, 01 September 2011 23:12|
Traveling across the country regularly and hopping on a plane day after day is the norm for professional athletes.
Collegiate programs typically do not travel as extensively; however, the Illinois State volleyball team is putting in some miles for the second consecutive weekend. After traveling nearly 2,400 miles altogether to and from Orem, Utah last weekend, the Redbirds will make a 600-mile roundtrip journey for the inaugural Skyhawk Invitational in Martin, Tenn.
“Traveling is awesome,” ISU redshirt sophomore outside hitter Angela Rego said. “Nothing beats waking up and seeing mountains outside of your hotel.”
The Redbirds open play at the tournament with the first of two games on Friday against Stephen F. Austin at 11 a.m. ISU takes the court again at 5 p.m. to face Alabama-Birmingham. The squad resumes action Saturday at 2 p.m. to play the host school, Tennessee-Martin in its final game of the tournament.
Stephen F. Austin has a number of new faces this season in the form of nine newcomers comprised of seven freshmen and two junior transfers. The UAB Blazers are experienced, returning 10 of their 16 players on this year’s roster from last season’s squad. The UT-Martin Skyhawks’ roster consists of three Illinois natives, and the program’s four seniors lead the squad.
“Stephen F. Austin and UAB both have had good programs in the past experiencing some good success, and we are looking forward to playing those two teams,” ISU head coach Melissa Myers said. “As the host, UT-Martin is certainly going to present a challenge. We are looking forward to another tough weekend of play.”
Myers believes the ISU volleyball team has shown improvement from the first match until now and expects this upward trend to continue.
“Our greatest expectation is that we continue to improve every week and match,” Myers said. “We did that this past weekend, even though we lost two five-set, tough matches we really did make improvements each match. Our expectation is to continue doing that throughout this weekend as well.”
There are still a number of areas the squad hopes to improve upon, such as its serving and serve-receive game.
“I think we have to serve and pass more efficiently,” Myers said. “Those things did improve throughout last weekend, so I think if we can keep building on that it is going to help us be more consistent with our offense.”
ISU’s two losses have come in the form of five-set defeats where the squad had opportunities to win. The Redbirds hope to learn from these experiences and show the ability to win close matches this weekend and throughout the remainder of the non-conference schedule heading into Missouri Valley Conference play.
“We need to work on closing out sets,” Rego said. “We got close to winning those first two out in Utah and gained a lot of experience in learning how to finish out games. I think that is something we can take with us going into conference.
“We also need to work on executing the ball when we get first ball side-outs. One of our key things is serving aggressively, so then we can block and play defense well. We’re blocking pretty well early on here. Hopefully we can continue getting better at those skills,” she added.
Rego noted that the squad’s tournament experience during the non-conference slate is great preparation for MVC competition.
“I think we have a really strong preseason this year,” Rego said. “We have been seeing all different types of competition that we will see in conference. We see the height and strength that we see at the top of the conference, but yet we’ll see the scrappy defense, heart and desire from the other teams in our conference as well.”