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A step closer to tourney
Not too long ago, Southeast Missouri State University's volleyball team would have been playing for an Ohio Valley Conference regular season title or positioning for a top seed in the conference tournament the last weekend of the season.
From 1991 to 2000, Southeast won or shared the OVC regular season title eight times. Southeast won five OVC tournament titles during that span but has not won the OVC tournament since 2000.
This season, Southeast entered Friday night's home match against Murray State sitting in sixth place in the OVC standings, with only six teams qualifying for the tournament. Southeast cleared its first hurdle to another OVC tournament appearance with a 32-30, 25-30, 30-23, 30-18 win in front of 359 fans at Houck Field House.
"We're in a good spot because our destiny's in our own hands," Southeast coach Cindy Gannon said.
With its win, Southeast climbed to fifth in the OVC at 8-7, 10-16 overall. Murray State fell to 3-12 in OVC play and 6-16 overall.
Southeast will face Tennessee-Martin at 7 tonight at Houck Field House in the season finale for both teams. UTM lost to Eastern Illinois on Friday to drop to 7-8 in the OVC, and fell into a three-way tie for sixth with Tennessee Tech and Morehead State. Tennessee Tech and Morehead will play tonight.
"We have to win tonight or Morehead has to beat Tech," Gannon said.
Jill Miller, who finished with 14 kills and 25 digs in the win against Murray, said getting the win tonight is key.
"We just don't want to have to count on other people having to lose to get in," she said.
With nothing to play for Friday, Murray State came out loose and relaxed in front of a Racer-friendly crowd. With a lineup featuring three players from the surrounding area and several others from the St. Louis area, it seemed at times Southeast was the road team.
"It made it fun," Gannon said. "I don't care who is in the stands as long as we have a big crowd."
The Racers nearly used the crowd's energy to come from behind in the opening game. Southeast led much of the way early, but Murray State rallied to tie the score at 15-15. Southeast staved off two game points to grab the win in the opener on a Miller ace.
"I was a little nervous there for a while," Gannon said.
Murray State continued to play well in the second game and led most of the way to tie the match at one game apiece.
Southeast held off some late Murray rallies in the third game to recapture the momentum and cruised in the fourth game.
"They had a little momentum, and we definitely wanted to stop it," Miller said.
Jackson product Jessica Koeper led Southeast with 17 kills. Southeast setter Jamie Baumstark had 40 assists, 13 digs and three aces. Lauren Scannell matched Miller with 25 digs and Shannon Muesenfechter added 10 digs.
"We're getting contributions from a lot of people," Gannon said. "I think it's coming more consistently, but we are very young and sometimes our youth shows through."
Kimberly Bunnage led Murray with 16 kills. Leopold graduate Holly Jansen had 18 digs for the Racers.