`Birds Wrap Up Regular Season at Wichita State, Missouri State
Nov. 16, 2006
NORMAL, Ill. -- Illinois State's volleyball team enters the final weekend of Missouri Valley Conference play one win away from extending history: they would become the only team in league history with a winning regular-season record every season since league play began in 1983. The Redbirds travel to Wichita, Kan. and Springfield, Mo. for road matches against the respective second and third-place teams in the Valley.
Friday's match against Wichita State is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Charles Koch Arena. First serve from MSU's Hammonds Student Center is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Redbirds are coming off last weekend's split, where they defeated in-state rival Bradley (Nov. 10) and dropped a decision to first-place Northern Iowa on Senior Day (Nov. 12).
Head coach Sharon Dingman realizes that despite her team being officially eliminated from the regular season MVC championship race, they still have a prime chance to directly affect the seeding for next weekend's State Farm MVC Tournament at Redbird Arena.
"I thought we continued to get better and see our confidence grow last weekend, even in a losing effort to Northern Iowa," said Dingman. "I told the team that I am enjoying watching them grow up. We're going to have to play with a lot of confidence going into another big weekend. We're not in a position to win the conference regular season, but we are certainly in a position to help decide who will win it. We're excited about that opportunity."
Wichita State (24-5, 14-2 MVC) has a balanced attack, currently leading the Valley in both digs-per-game and service aces. They rank second in hitting percentage and kills-per-game. Missouri State (23-6, 13-3 MVC) owns a 10-2 home record this season, with their lone losses coming against the Shockers and UNI. The Bears rank second in the Valley in assists and blocks-per-game, and opponents hit just .113 against them.
Dingman believes the improvements the Redbirds have made on the offensive end as of late will be the key to defeating either one of their weekend counterparts.
"We need to continue to kill the ball at the pace we have been," Dingman said. "I have no reason to think that we won't be able to do that. We averaged over 16 kills-per-game against Northern Iowa, who is one of the best blocking teams in the country. Our focus this weekend is going to have to be on point scoring."
Illinois State's last five wins in MVC play have come via three-game sweeps. But the Redbirds have had the toughest schedule of any other team in the league ranks down the stretch of the season, ending the regular season slate against the top three teams in the league (UNI, Wichita State, Missouri State).
"I think it's a great way to end the regular season," said Dingman. "The top six teams in our conference are going to be playing against each other next weekend. There is no better way to prepare for that than playing these three teams at the end. This weekend will be especially beneficial, because we are going to have to play our two best matches of the season to have a chance at getting two wins. It is going to be the same scenario next weekend. If we want a chance to win a championship at Redbird (Arena), we're going to have to play three great matches in a row."