The Cougars were off to a rough start last weekend in the Cougar Invitational with a straight-set loss to Valparaiso, but finished strong in a straight-set sweep against Western Illinois resulting in a 1-1 for the Cougars and 0-2 victory for Valparaiso.


SIUE vs. Valparaiso


In their first game, the Cougars struggled to get the ball rolling in their first set, allowing the Beacons to gain an early lead that put them far out of reach resulting in a 13-25 loss for the first set. However, they saw solid improvement in the second set with back and forth push between the two teams.


Freshman outside hitter Sydney Hummert from Quincy, Illinois, excelled in this set with six kills and five digs. However, despite getting into their groove, the Cougars lost the second set in a 21-25 score after the Beacons came back with multiple straight streaks. The third and final set saw a strong start from the Cougars with a lot of back and forth, but the Beacons maintained a control to the end, only allowing the Cougars to score six points during their final 15 point push resulting in a 17-25 loss in the final set that led to the Beacon’s second win in the tournament.


Head Coach Kendall Paulus said she was really happy with Hummert’s performance and believes in her abilities as a player.


“I’m glad [Hummert] was able to get into a good groove attacking tonight,” Paulus said. “Plus we had this preseason, we know she can hit high and hard, so I’m really glad she had a good game tonight.”


Hummert ended the match with 11 kills and 11 digs, which also gave her the Cougar’s only double-double of the game and senior middle blocker Annie Ellis led the team with a .312 hitting percentage.


SIUE vs. Western Illinois


The Cougars exhibited dramatic improvements in their second game, gaining a strong lead in the first set against the Leathernecks ending the set with a 25-16 victory for the first time in the tournament. They had an even more dominant second set, never letting up the lead while forcing a series of errors from the Leathernecks. The Cougars continued to force errors into the third set and held their lead through the early part of the set.


However, the Leathernecks came back midway through the set with a seven point streak, evening the score to 13-13 and kept neck and neck through most of the second half. Despite these efforts though, the Cougars maintained control of the game and ended the last set with a 25-21 win to finish out the game.


Paulus said although she was nervous about the Leathernecks tipping the score during the third set, she was impressed by the Cougars’ ability to overcome the pushback.


“I think [Western’s] a really smart team, I think they move the ball around well because they’re balanced as well. So, I was really happy that we were pretty scrappy when we did have the chance, because that’s something we haven’t been great at, so we were better at that today,” Paulus said.


Freshman setter Alyse Drifka from Richfield, Wisconsin, thrived in this game with a formidable career performance of a .875 clip and a match-best 35 assists. She also made seven kills, which, according to Paulus, the team loves to see from her.


“We love when [Drifka] is aggressive and gives attempts on the board, let alone that many kills, so I’m really glad that she took the chances that she did,” Paulus said.


Also flourishing in this game was freshman outside hitter Julia Treichel from Brookfield, Wisconsin, recording a season high of 16 kills to the team’s season high of 18 kills. Paulus said she was happy to see that Treichel’s training paid off.


“[Treichel’s] a smaller outside, so her shots really matter and her ability to see the block. It makes it more difficult for her to score points, so the fact that she was able to see the block, move the ball around … I’m just happy to see that training correlate because she was starting to get blocked there in the third set … but I think she found the rhythm so that she can use that moving forward,” Paulus said.


Drifka said she attributes the improvement in between the two games to how well the Cougars worked together as a team.


“Passers were digging in system, which allowed me to run at least three hitters at one time, so I was able to set anyone,” Drifka said. “[Treichel] did a really good job executing the ball and so did all the other hitters, so my confidence came from everyone else on the team.”


Preparing for Conference


Treichel said that although they had a really tough preseason and it’s easy to get discouraged, she sees it as a learning experience that will drive the team forward.


“We have a very fresh, young team, and so I think the preseason was a learning curve [and] not a lot of us have experienced that in that high of competition, so, knowing we have that under our belts, I’m excited to just kind of get out of the rookie phase and step into our role as a really dominate team and we do have a lot of energy and we do have a lot of fresh perspectives, so I’m excited to use that for this season,” Treichel said.


She also said this victory sparked some confidence in the team as well.


“When you’re hyped with the rest of your team, the rest of the game just flows from it, so it was a good morale booster just to know we do have that in us, as a team, as a whole, because that feeds into all of our individual play,” Treichel said.


However, Paulus said the team can’t get complacent thinking that one game of improvement with sustain, but is hoping to help everyone cement some of the habits she saw during the game during practice this week.


“I think we need something to help ignite some fire, because I think we’re in this growth mindset ... and I think that’s a good place to be, but we’ve got to find the balance of how to pull out everything you have at every point, so I think conference will naturally do that for us,” Paulus said. “They’re ready.”


This tournament closed out the Cougars’ non-conference play with a 3-8 record and they will be playing their first Ohio Valley Conference game at home this weekend in a two-match series against Tennessee Tech at 6 p.m. Sept. 24 and 2 p.m. Sept. 25. For more information, go to the SIUE Cougars website.


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