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Dondlinger, DeLong lead Southeast to victory in five games
Aubrey Dondlinger has been strong on the front line for the Southeast Missouri State volleyball team since the season started.
It took Karleigh DeLong a bit longer to get her season started because of an injury, but she has also been stout up front since returning.
That hard-hitting duo has helped the Redhawks post four wins in their last five matches, including Wednesday's five-game thriller with Memphis.
Southeast rallied for a 30-32, 30-18, 20-30, 30-26, 15-12 nonconference victory at Houck Field House.
The Redhawks improved to 7-8, while the regionally ranked Tigers fell to 12-6.
"It was so intense the whole time," said Dondlinger, a junior outside hitter who led the Redhawks with 21 kills.
Said DeLong, a sophomore outside hitter who added 20 kills: "It was an awesome match."
Dondlinger, a transfer from Parkland Junior College in Champaign, Ill., leads Southeast in kills this season with 189.
Dondlinger, who said her goal when she came to Southeast was to earn a starting position, did not expect to be No. 1 in kills during her rookie campaign.
"It's kind of a surprise," Dondlinger said. "But I'm enjoying it."
Southeast coach Renata Nowacki expected Dondlinger to make a major impact right away.
"That's why we recruited her. We're not going to go the juco route if someone is going to sit on the bench," Nowacki said. "She's been doing a very good job for us."
Nowacki also had high hopes for DeLong, who started for the Redhawks last year during a solid freshman season. But a thumb injury caused her to miss the first few matches this year. She's been on fire since getting healthy.
DeLong has 133 kills in the last eight matches and has taken over second on the squad with 165 kills.
In five Ohio Valley Conference matches, DeLong leads the Redhawks with 95 kills. Dondlinger is next with 62.
"She has played very well since coming back. We just need to keep her healthy," Nowacki said.
Nowacki said a big key for the Redhawks is to have Dondlinger and DeLong clicking at the same time.
"We need a connection of the two," Nowacki said. "We keep stressing, if they're good, we're good."
Both had a double-double Wednesday night as Dondlinger contributed 13 digs and DeLong recorded 11 digs. DeLong added four service aces.
Freshman Claire Keaton also reached double figures in kills with 10, while sophomore Molly Davis led in digs with 15.
Junior setter Alyssa Aston, inserted into the starting lineup for the second straight match, had 60 assists and 12 digs.
After dropping two of the first three games, the Redhawks found themselves down 23-21 in the fourth game.
But they rallied as DeLong's kill broke a 24-24 tie and put Southeast ahead to stay as it evened the match.
The Redhawks scored the first three points of the fifth game and never trailed. Dondlinger's kill closed out the match.
"It was an intense match, and a good win for us," Nowacki said.
Southeast hopes to carry its momentum into the weekend as the Redhawks conclude a five-match homestand with two OVC contests.
The Redhawks are 3-2 in OVC play, which has them tied for fifth place in the 11-team league.
Southeast faces first-place Morehead State (4-0) at 7 p.m. Friday and 10th-place Eastern Kentucky (0-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"It's a huge weekend for us," Nowacki said.