On Sept. 9, sophomore setter Katelyn Lefler went down with a concussion during Illinois State volleyball’s seventh match of the season.  

By its 17th match on Oct. 7, ISU had lost five players due to injuries without seeing one return.

Lefler was back after missing two months and 18 matches, playing in 10 of the Redbirds’ 29 contests in 2022. She joined Sarah Kushner as the only Redbird to return from injury during the season. Kushner missed five matches with a sprained ankle.

Sarah Jacobsen suffered a season-ending torn ACL during the same match Kushner sprained her ankle. Starters Nicole Lund and Kaitlyn Prondzinski medically retired due to their injuries.

The constant injury problems first-year head coach Allie Matters had to deal with during the 2022 season are things a team would not wish on its greatest rival.

Matters and her team battled through more in 2022 than most teams do over the course of many years. With such tremendous adversity that was out of their control, their performance cannot be fairly evaluated.

The Redbirds were constantly reminded that they were picked to finish first in the Missouri Valley Conference while they were struggling just to find consistent rotations. ISU started the year with a target on its back that quickly turned to a weight on its shoulders.

Other teams continued to give the Redbirds their best matches, looking to extract their revenge on the three-time defending champions.

The Redbirds’ senior class of Kushner, Kaity Weimerskirch and Kendee Hilliard did all they could to keep the team above water. Their accomplishments speak for themselves.

But even while ending on a down year from a performance standpoint, the group laid a foundation and built a culture that will continue to positively impact the program for years to come.

ISU was forced to look for progression and moral victories in 2022, especially after being eliminated from the MVC tournament. The team found those in the play of its five freshman, who each made impressive strides throughout the season.

Aida Shadewald and Regan Haith have everything it takes to be a force for the Redbirds for years to come. The duo made ISU the only school with multiple players on the MVC All-Freshman Team. 

Another outside hitter and middle blocker duo will look to build on their freshman-year contributions in 2023 as Calia Clubb and Hannah Reichensperger seem primed for big sophomore seasons.

Emily Weber gives Matters options at the setter position. Weber consistently impressed throughout the season, making the most out of what was set to be a redshirt year.  

Looking at sophomores, Lefler proved just how valuable she is in the three matches after her return. Lefler has a way of making everyone around her better — truly filling the role of a setter.

Maggi Weller was also an underrated contributor for the Redbirds this past season, especially when the roster thinned. She had the opportunity to learn from a former MVC Libero of the Year in Weimerskirch and another former standout libero in the form of her head coach.

With the opportunity to transition from a back row fill-in to the team’s full-time libero, Weller could make an impact in 2023. Weimerskirch consistently voiced her faith in Weller and has confidence in her backup to fill her shoes.

As Matters goes into her second year as head coach, she has a young core with wisdom and experience beyond its years. Her task is mold her team into the MVC championship contenders that Redbird fans have come to expect from this program.

REID WATKINS is Sports Editor for The Vidette. Watkins can be contacted at rdwatk1@ilstu.edu. Follow Watkins on Twitter at @rwatkinssports 

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