SIUE Volleyball Starts Season With Home Tournament
Aug. 25, 2011
EDWARDSVILLE, ILL. - SIUE volleyball fans can watch 10 matches in two days beginning Friday with the SIUE Invitational at the Vadalabene Center.
It will be the opening act for first-year SIUE Head Coach Leah Johnson. The five-team tournament is a round robin for SIUE against Kent State, Wofford, Western Illinois, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
"Right now, I feel like we're all on the same page," said Johnson of her team. "Each player has commented how they feel like they have gone to another level."
SIUE will get its first opportunity to challenge that notion with matches Friday against Kent State at 11:30 a.m. and Western Illinois at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the Cougars face off against Wofford at 11:30 a.m. and Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 7 p.m. A full schedule is available at siuecougars.com.
Johnson has spent the preseason getting to know her 13-player team that includes eight holdovers from last season's 14-15 team. SIUE also has one redshirt and four newcomers to the roster.
Junior Sammi Minton (Milwaukee, Wis.) opens in the same spot she did last season as the team's starting setter. Minton is a defensive-minded setter, noted Johnson, who uses defense as a way to set up action as a playmaker.
"She's probably one of the best on the team at understanding her blocking assignments," said Johnson.
The Cougars have trained 6-foot Brianne Graunke (Elmhurst), 5-10 Jessica Hemann (Breese), 6-0 Kelsey Augustine (Geneva), and 5-10 Brooke Smith (Godfrey) as middle hitters heading into the opener. Smith also has seen practice time as an outside hitter. Graunke, meanwhile, has seen time as a right-side hitter. Hemann begins the season as the lone senior on the roster.
The outside hitters figure to be young with the return of sophomore Julia Whitfield (Jefferson City, Mo.), transfer sophomore Cori Harris (Champaign), and freshman Emma Anderson (Broadwell). Johnson said she also is expecting Lexi Cibulka (St. Louis), Danielle Cushley (Lodi, Wis.), Chelsi Hummert (Mascoutah), and Kelsey Johnson (Aviston) to step in as outside hitters this season.
Freshman Chelsea Colclasure (Decatur, Ind.) looks to have a hold on the libero position. The 5-3 defensive specialist will anchor what Johnson hopes is an improved defensive presence.
"I felt like preseason was a success in that we understood our level of work capacity. Our student-athletes have competed hard," said Johnson. "Mentally and emotionally, I think we're ready to compete against someone else. As a group, we all understand it's going to be a season-long process of improvement."