SIUE’s volleyball team hosted their second tournament of the season this weekend, sweeping Seattle University, Montana University and the University of Illinois at Chicago Friday and Saturday at the Cougar Invite.
The Cougars opened the weekend tournament Friday night at the Vadalabene Center, facing the Seattle University Redhawks. SIUE beat the Redhawks 3-1, out-hitting them .285 to .139. The Cougars’ offense was led by senior outside hitter Emily Harrison with 12 kills.
Harrison was followed by senior outside hitter Ashley Witt and senior middle blocker Taylor Joens, who each had 11 kills.
Joens also boosted the team’s defensive effort with a team-high nine blocks. The Cougars tallied 13 blocks total and 71 digs in the game. Senior defensive specialist Katie Shashack led the team in digs with 21.
Redshirt sophomore setter Samantha Knight added 13 digs, and senior outside hitter Jackie Scott posted 12.
The Cougars faced Montana in their first match Saturday and dropped a close first set 29-31 before battling back to win three straight for the 3-1 victory.
Head Coach Kendall Paulus said the match against Montana was a back-and-forth battle, and the team did well keeping a high level of energy.
“It’s a game of momentum; the tides can shift at any moment. [Montana] would sneak up on us and steal a little momentum, but the team takes so much pride in playing with energy. Whenever they’re not meeting their own standard, they fight to get back to their best,” Paulus said.
SIUE out-hit Montana .253 to .124, racking up 74 digs and eight blocks as well. Joens — named tournament MVP later in the day — hit an astounding .562 against Montana, with 18 kills in 32 attempts. Joens ended up with 37 kills on the weekend.
Joens was also named OVC player of the week after her performance at the Scenic City Showdown the previous weekend. According to Assistant Coach Luke Young, she continues to improve week after week.
“[Joens] sees the court so well. We know that teams are going to do whatever they can to double-block her. We run a pretty fast offense, so that should open up opportunities for other attackers, but she’s learned this season to score on the double block as well as she does one-on-one,” Young said.
Joens gave credit to the Cougars’ setters — Knight and sophomore Mallory Nicholson — for her success. Joens agreed with Young and said her vision of the court has helped her against the double-blocking.
“A lot of it comes from seeing the court and getting the opportunity to have playing time over four years. I’ve gotten a good feel for open spots on the court, rather than swinging right into the block. On top of that, our setters see the court really well. They get the ball to our other hitters, then open me back up,” Joens said.
Harrison followed closely behind Joens, hitting .414 against Montana, with 15 kills — joining Joens on the All-Tournament team with 34 kills on the weekend.
The Cougars have played in four tournaments so far this season. Joens has received all-tournament honors in two, and Harrison has been honored in three.
“I really have to give a shout- out to our seniors. They make sure everyday that everyone on the team is being accountable so that we continue to have weekends like this last one,” Paulus said.
SIUE concluded the tournament with a sweep over the University of Illinois at Chicago, improving the Cougars’ overall record to 10-2 — SIUE’s best start since making the move to Division I.
Young said he was most impressed with the Cougars’ improvement in mindset and composure over the weekend.
“I think our mindset ultimately was the most consistent piece this weekend … the team’s mindset was consistent every single match this weekend, where at times, we’ve seen that waiver a bit. This weekend, that wasn’t the case,” Young said.
The Cougars will travel to Austin Peay University Friday, Sept. 22 and Murray State University Saturday, Sept. 23 where they look to keep their high level of confidence as they begin Ohio Valley Conference play.
“This weekend is going to be tough, but I really think our team is stable and confident enough to bring their best this weekend. I don’t think we’ll waiver on energy or communication,” Paulus said.