(ADAM VOGLER) [Order this photo]
The Ohio Valley Conference, unlike some leagues, doesn't recognize divisional winners as official conference champions.
That doesn't diminish the Southeast Missouri State volleyball team's collective excitement over what it accomplished this season.
Southeast, official or not, wrapped up an outright OVC title Saturday afternoon when the Redhawks beat visiting Tennessee Tech 25-15, 15-25, 25-15, 25-17 in its final regular-season match.
The Redhawks captured the OVC West Division crown during the league's first season of divisional play for volleyball. Southeast entered its Senior Day having already clinched at least a share of the West.
"In our minds, we're champions, with what we accomplished," Southeast coach Julie Folliard said. "We set that goal, to win our division and to get to 20 wins."
Southeast finished second overall in the 12-team conference, behind East Division winner Morehead State, which captured its third straight OVC regular-season championship and finished undefeated in league play.
"It would have been better if we could have won the whole thing, but we'll take it," senior outside hitter Brittney Kalinoski said.
The Redhawks (20-12, 12-4 OVC) have certainly come a long way in a short time under Folliard, in her second season after taking over a once-proud program that was sagging.
"This program has come from the lows to the highs," senior libero Samantha Lowman said. "It's a big accomplishment what we've done this year."
Southeast's three seniors, including outside hitter Karlee Lursen, appreciate what the 2012 Redhawks have accomplished so far.
The trio endured Southeast's 2009 and 2010 seasons that saw the Redhawks miss the OVC tournament both years.
Southeast was coming off a ninth-place OVC finish in 2010 when Folliard was hired after being the associate head coach at SIU Carbondale.
Folliard's inaugural Southeast team last year earned a fourth-place OVC finish and its first conference tournament berth since 2008 as the Redhawks went 14-19 overall and 12-9 in league play.
This year's Redhawks have posted the program's first 20-win season since 2007, when Southeast captured a share of the OVC regular-season title.
"Our first two years we struggled. Last year we started turning it around," Lursen said. "It's a big accomplishment. It feels really good. I'm just really proud of the whole team."
All-OVC junior middle blocker Emily Coon said Southeast's turnaround has been a collective effort.
"My freshman year we weren't so hot, but a new coach, great teammates ..." Coon said. "Winning the West Division is awesome, but we're not settling for just that. Now we want to win the (conference) tournament."
Kalinoski, Lursen and Lowman couldn't have imagined a better Senior Day that began with them being recognized prior to the match.
Not only did Southeast notch its 20th win, the three seniors were joined by their families who traveled substantial distances to Cape Girardeau.
Lowman is the closest as Lincoln, Ill., is about 250 miles away. Kalinoski is from Overland Park, Kan., near Kansas City, and Lursen is from Apple Valley, Minn.
"It's great for everybody to have their families here," Kalinoski said.
Folliard said the seniors deserve praise for enduring the tough times and leading Southeast's resurgence.
"They showed a lot of leadership and they all did a great job today," Folliard said. "It was a great way to end their careers at Houck Field House."
Lursen paced Southeast against Tennessee Tech (3-26, 1-15) with a season-high 14 kills to go along with 10 digs.
"Karlee did a great job," Folliard said.
Sophomore middle blocker Kelsey Keeve tied a career-high with 13 kills, hitting .500.
Redshirt freshman middle blocker Taylor Masterson added 11 kills.
Kalinoski and Emily Coon contributed nine kills apiece. Coon led with three blocks.
Junior libero Berkley Idel paced Southeast's defense with 15 digs. Kalinoski added 12 digs and Lowman had eight digs.
Junior setter Julie Shives dished out 46 assists and added four service aces.
Sophomore Meredith Stranges highlighted the final game with three straight services aces.
Two seniors then helped close things out on match point, Kalinoski serving and Lursen hammering a kill.
"We're always glad to give the seniors a good Senior Day," Coon said.
Now the Redhawks will set their sights on the OVC tournament, which has been expanded from six to eight teams. The event runs Thursday through Saturday in Morehead, Ky., with the winner earning the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth.
Southeast, the No. 2 seed behind host Morehead State, plays seventh-seeded Jacksonville State at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round.
"Now we want to get the big one," said Folliard of the NCAA tournament berth.