Five Greyhounds finished with double digit kills in a 3-0 sweep (25-8, 25-12, 25-17) against the University of Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars on Oct. 4.
Junior outside hitter Hailey Brown led with 13 kills, followed by sophomore middle blocker Becca Lira with 10, both redshirt sophomore middle blocker Hannah Bauer and junior UT-Martin transfer outside hitter Lynsey Hazelwood with seven, and senior middle blocker Julia Watkins with six.
Senior setter Meghan Binkerd helped the hitters by finishing with 39 assists and the team finished with a total of 58 digs for the night.
Prior to the victory, the team fell to McKendree University in a close match (25-18, 20-25, 25-21, 26-28, 12-15).
During the match, Binkerd broke the university’s all-time assist record, finishing with 48 assists for the night and currently placing the record at 4,904 career assists.
Prior to the weekend and for the 25th match in a row, the Greyhounds defeated the Saint Joseph’s College Pumas in a 3-0 sweep (25-16, 25-10, 25-18) last Tuesday, Sept. 30, increasing the total number of sweeps for the season at that time to seven and improving the team’s record to 7-5 (6-1 Great Lakes Valley Conference).
Brown led the Greyhounds with 14 kills for the night, making this her eighth match with a double-digit kill finish. Hazelwood finished with 12 kills, and Lira claimed eight.
“I just think about every ball I want to terminate,” Brown said. “I want to get a kill every ball; and if I don’t have that chance, I want to put them in a tough position to score. Meghan [Binkerd] is good at putting us into very, very good positions to score and so is the back row. If you can’t get a pass, you can’t get a set and you can’t get a hit. So everyone has the same goal and that’s to get the point.”
The players worked together to achieve that goal, with Binkerd claiming 34 assists and senior defensive specialist Kimberly Trojan finishing with 11 digs, keeping the Pumas’ kill count to 19 compared to the Greyhounds’ 43 for the night.
Head Volleyball Coach Jason Reed said that the team is starting to see the advantages of playing tough teams at the beginning of the season and is continuing to improve each week.
“The teams we lost to at the beginning of the season were all top-15 teams. Not to take anything away from our conference, since those teams are strong as well, but the level we were playing at in preseason was pretty high,” Reed said. “So we took a couple of losses against some really good teams, and I think we are starting to see the benefit of a tough preseason schedule. We realized what we needed to get better at, and we are working on some of those things. We have really cleaned up our side of the net a lot, and it’s showing now as we are winning those close matches.”
Cleaning up the Greyhounds’ side of the net, according to Reed, has included limiting missed serves and balls in the net and improving blocking. Reed said that the team has been learning not just through repetition and drills in practice, but through the coaching of the upperclassmen as well.
“The upperclassmen do a pretty good job coaching the younger ones, and that’s what I really like about the program,” Reed said. “They are not shy in helping the underclassmen, and even the upperclassmen, telling them things like, ‘Hey you need to do it this way’ or ‘Your hand needs to be over here.’”
For Brown, leading the team comes easier after gaining experience from playing a lot as a freshman.
“As a freshman, I always had the one person that would tell me if I am doing something wrong and how to fix it. So I think a good way I help lead the team is by doing the same thing,” Brown said. “If I see someone doing something I know they can fix, I am always holding them accountable. And I am always trying to lead by example by having a good attitude and being positive, even if we’re in a rut.”
Reed said that with the current success the team is having, the Greyhounds’ goals are still in reach.
“At the beginning of the season, we were picked to win our side [of the conference]. We have goals as a team to win the conference tournament, to host the regional tournament and then make it to the Elite Eight. And the honest truth is, that is still very realistic for us,” Reed said. “We will need to play our best volleyball in November and December for that to happen. But for where we’re at right now, the success we’re having, and the improvements we can still make, I think we have a real possibility of accomplishing those goals.”
The Greyhounds will travel to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside this Friday, Oct. 10, to take on the Rangers. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m.