Healthy lineup key for 2009 Redhawks

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Southeast's Claire Keaton spikes the ball. (Southeast Missourian file)

Southeast Missouri State's volleyball team is looking for a return to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference after taking a step back last season.

The 2008 Redhawks dipped to 13-14 overall, including an 11-7, fifth-place OVC mark.

That came after the 2007 Redhawks claimed a share of the program's first OVC regular-season title since 2000 and won 20 matches for the first time since 2002.

"We had an up-and-down year last year," senior libero Molly Davis said. "But we're so excited for this season. We have big goals."

Fifth-year Southeast coach Renata Heard, whose squad opens the season Friday at the Memphis Invitational, pointed to injuries as a major factor in 2008.

Molly Davis led the Redhawks with 447 digs last season. (Southeast Missourian file photo)

"We're healthy this year," Heard said. "That was a huge downfall for us last year."

With a healthy 15-player roster, Heard said she hardly can contain her enthusiasm for this season.

"Fired up would maybe be an understatement," Heard said. "I don't like to say too much, but I'm smiling big.

"There's something different about this team. I don't know what it is. It's hard to put into words. I don't know if it's leadership, team chemistry. ... I'm anxious to find out. Friday can't get here fast enough for me."

Although Southeast graduated its lone all-OVC first-team pick from last year in Aubrey Dondlinger, the Redhawks return plenty of experience.

Back are four full-time starters and four other players who started at least five matches.

"We have a lot of experience, which is important," said Heard, whose squad was picked third in the OVC preseason poll voted on by the league's coaches and sports information directors.

Southeast had three players earn all-OVC preseason honors, led by junior outside hitter Claire Keaton on the first team.

Senior outside hitter Karleigh DeLong and senior setter Sarah Barth were voted to the second team.

Keaton made second-team all-OVC last season after leading the Redhawks in kills (313) while ranking eighth in the OVC in kills per game. She also was second on the squad in digs (246).

DeLong, first-team all-OVC as a sophomore in 2007 when she was Southeast's top hitter, was limited to 14 matches, including 12 starts, last season due to various injuries. She still ranked second on the Redhawks in kills per game.

Barth has led the Redhawks in assists the past two seasons. Last year she ranked second in the OVC in assists per match, finishing with 785 for the year.

Davis ranks among the OVC's top liberos. The Academic All-American needs just 14 digs to set the school's career record. Last year she led the Redhawks with 447 digs, which was fourth in the OVC.

"We're hoping for big seasons and a lot of leadership from all four of them," Heard said.

Junior middle blocker Emily Hughes joined Keaton, Barth and Davis in starting at least 22 matches last year. Hughes led the Redhawks in blocks with 70 and ranked third in kills with 192.

Senior outside hitter Amanda Rickhoff earned 14 starts while playing in 25 matches last year.

Sophomore outside hitter Paige Dossey made 11 starts and played in 24 matches, while junior defensive specialist Kelly Benacka had five starts and appeared in all 27 matches. Benacka led Southeast in aces with 20.

Another returning squad member is junior defensive specialist Meagan Webb, who saw limited action in 2008.

Blending in with the nine returners are six freshmen, including middle blocker Emily Maher, who was in the program last year as a redshirt.

True freshmen battling for playing time are outside hitters Brittney Kalinoski and Karlee Lursen; middle blocker Jenny Bellairs; setter Angela Cichelero; and libero Samantha Lowman.

Heard said Lursen will receive plenty of action right off the bat.

"As far as immediate contributions, she's the one," Heard said. "But all our freshmen look really good."

Noteworthy

* Southeast has appeared in all 18 OVC volleyball tournaments since joining the league in 1991.

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