Falling short of OVC tourney motivates Southeast volleyball team

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 ~ Updated 12:23 AM
Southeast Missouri State senior Claire Keaton played in only 14 matches last season due to injury after leading the Redhawks in kills her sophomore season. (Southeast Missourian file)

A second straight injury-plagued season resulted in the 2009 Southeast Missouri State volleyball squad seeing an impressive streak end.

The Redhawks finished seventh in the 10-team Ohio Valley Conference to miss the six-team OVC tournament for the first time since joining the league in 1991.

Southeast, which had its conference-record string of 18 straight tournament appearances end last year, is intent on beginning another streak.

"It's in bold letters, something we haven't forgotten about," sixth-year coach Renata Heard said of not being involved in last year's OVC tournament. "That sick feeling will be in our stomachs when conference play starts."

The Redhawks, 13-17 overall and 8-10 in the OVC last year, open the new season Friday against South Carolina Upstate at the Bradley tournament in Peoria, Ill.

Southeast's Emily Hughes spikes against Tennessee Tech in an OVC match last season. Hughes, a senior, led the Redhawks with 346 kills in 2009 and was second on the team with 79 blocks. (Southeast Missourian file)

"We're excited to get started, to see what we've got," said Heard, who in 2007 led Southeast to a share of its first OVC regular-season title since 2000. "I'm very curious. We're young and not as experienced as in the past.

"The injury bug has bit us the last few years. We've tried to fumigate this year, make sure it won't bite us. So far so good."

Southeast graduated first-team all-OVC hitter Karleigh DeLong and career digs leader Molly Davis but returns four players who started at least 14 matches last year and three more who started at least once.

Headlining the returnees is senior middle blocker Emily Hughes, who led the Redhawks with 346 kills while ranking second with 79 blocks. She was the only Southeast player to start all 30 matches.

Senior outside hitter Claire Keaton was limited to 14 starts due to injury last season. She had 121 kills after recording a team-high 313 in 2008 to earn second-team all-OVC honors.

Senior libero Kelly Benacka filled in well at setter for about half of last season due to injury after not having played the position in college.

Benacka, who made 16 starts, was second on the squad with 520 assists and 323 digs while leading the way with 23 service aces.

Junior outside hitter Paige Dossey started 14 matches in 2009, sophomore outside hitter Karlee Lursen started seven times, sophomore outside hitter Brittney Kalinoski made five starts and senior defensive specialist Meagan Webb made one start.

Sophomore libero Samantha Lowman, the eighth and final returnee, saw action off the bench in about half the matches.

Southeast will look for contributions from its seven newcomers, which include a senior, a junior and five freshmen.

"Right now it's hard to separate the freshmen from the upperclassmen," Heard said. "We've got depth. ... They're definitely competing for spots. I don't even know who the starters are yet."

The first-year senior provides a local flavor as former Scott City High School standout Kacie Ritter transferred from NAIA Union (Tenn.) University. She is a setter and defensive specialist.

Ritter is the granddaughter of Carl Ritter, the Southeast men's basketball program's all-time leading scorer.

Junior middle blocker Holly Reynolds transferred from Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo.

The freshmen are outside hitters Andrea Baylin, Berkley Idel and Colleen Yarber, middle blocker Emily Coon and setter Julie Shives.

Southeast's recruiting class was among 55 groups recognized as honorable mention by Prepvolleyball.com after the initial top 30 recruiting classes and 20 others were named highest honorable mention.

The Redhawks' recruits include the first pair of high school All-Americans in program history.

Baylin, from Dublin, Ohio, was named to a pair of All-American teams, while Yarber from Freeburg, Ill., made an All-American squad.

"We'll be young and inexperienced, but I think we'll be exciting to watch," Heard said.

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