The Illinois State volleyball team hasn't been above .500 in the Missouri Valley Conference since opening 1-4 in the league this season.
That could change with a pair of victories this weekend.
The Redbirds take a 10-10 overall mark and a 4-5 league ledger into tonight's 7 o'clock home match against Southern Illinois (9-10, 4-5). The homestand continues Sunday with a 2 p.m. contest against Evansville, which is 10-10 and 4-5 heading into tonight's match at Indiana State.
The Redbirds are coming off a five-game win over three-time Mid-Continent champion Valparaiso Tuesday. That victory was preceded by solid play in game three of a 3-0 loss to Northern Iowa Oct. 14.
"Even though we were swept, and lost game three of the Northern Iowa match last Saturday, I thought we played as well in that game as we have all season," said ISU coach Sharon Dingman.
"We executed very well offensively, our blocking was as good as it has been, and I felt like we gained some confidence against a great opponent. That really carried over to the match against Valparaiso where we were forced to put together a comeback through some adverse situations."
Illinois State owns a 56-5 all-time advantage over SIU and have won the last 30 meetings. Johannah Yutzy , a 2005 first-team all-MVC pick, leads SIU with 219 kills (3.22 kpg). The preseason all-conference selection ranks ninth in the Valley in kills behind ISU's Kari Staehlin (3.51 kpg).
Staehlin recorded 15 kills in ISU's 30-22, 30-8, 23-30, 30-20 victory at SIU Sept. 23.
"I love Yutzy's game," Dingman said. "I absolutely believe she is one of the top middles in this conference. She played extremely well against us in Carbondale, and I expect the same type of effort out of her on Friday night."
Evansville notched its first-ever win over ISU in a three-game sweep at Evansville Sept. 22. Purple Aces' outside hitter Sarah Treadway and middle blocker Kerry Sylvester combined for 20 kills in the match.
"That was a tough night for us," Dingman said. "Our players definitely remember what that felt like, and I've heard a few comments this week about getting revenge on Evansville. But we have to worry about a very talented Southern Illinois team first.
"There is a lot at stake this weekend. Either SIU or Evansville is arguably vying for the last spot in the Valley tournament positioning. Plus, if we win both matches this weekend, we can really separate ourselves from those teams. It's going to be a great weekend of volleyball in our league."
Soccer team eyes MVC finale
The ISU women's soccer team will warm-up for its final MVC match Sunday against Missouri State with a 2:30 p.m. home contest today against North Dakota State (8-5-1), whose coach is former ISU assistant Pete Cuadrado.
"Clearly Pete has done a great job at North Dakota State," said ISU coach Pete Kowall. "He is a good young coach and has helped to establish their program and get it off the ground."
Sunday's noon game with Missouri State (9-6-2) will also serve as senior day and Heidecke day. Four ISU seniors - Meghan Boler, Kim Collins, Jackie Rucinsky and Andrea Shaw - will be honored prior to the game. The game will be followed by the annual tribute to Julie Heidecke, a former soccer player who was killed in a car accident in 1998.
"Sunday will be a big day for us," Kowall said. "It will be important for us to make a statement in the last game against Missouri State and hopefully go into the post-season on a high note."
Stewart nets honor
ISU football player Kye Stewart has been named one of the Football Gazette's national players of the week after his 17-tackle performance against Southern Illinois.
The junior linebacker helped hold the nation's No. 2 scoring offense to a season-low in ISU's 37-10 victory. Stewart's tackle total included seven solos and one quarterback sack. He ranks No. 2 nationally with 13 tackles per game.
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