Volleyball looks to move on and improve this fall season

David Koier, Courier Staff

The Western Illinois volleyball team was more than anxious to play an exhibition game this past Saturday. The exhibition meant that fall is around the corner and a brand new season is underway. The Leathernecks finished a tough 3-26 last season, going 2-24 in conference play under the direction of new head coach Ben Staupe.

While the record may have not fully shown last year’s team potential, the talent was there. However, the passing of another semester means that some talented seniors have graduated, leaving leadership positions to fill.

One such player is the charismatic Shiah Sanders who, for the past four years has brought an energy and attack that sparked the Leatherneck offense. Sanders’ 2018 campaign saw the senior score 193 points while also recording 162 kills, placing her fourth on the team in both of those statistical categories. While it may be easier to find someone able to produce those numbers, it may be tough to find someone who can spark this volleyball team season the way Sanders could.

Another senior who will be missed this Leatherneck volleyball season is former outside hitter Melanie Patenaude. The Aurora, Colo. native led the team in many offensive categories including points (266.5), points per set (2.54), kills (229) and kills per set (2.18) while her specialty serving earned her 22 service aces.

While the losses of Sanders and Patenaude may hurt the Leatherneck offense, there are returning players who are still able to provide part of that offensive spark that Leatherneck volleyball fans have become accustomed to.

The best friend attacker duo of Mackenzie Steckler and Emma Norris are shaping up to be the offensive leaders of this squad. Norris, a junior, has started every year of her Leatherneck career. In her 53 career matches at Western, Norris has recorded 368 kills and 29 service aces, accumulating 2.11 kills per set. A strong attacker, Norris is very helpful when it comes to defense, recording 342 digs in her time at Western.

Steckler complements Norris very well on both offense and defense. The redshirt junior has made a name for herself in her time in The Summit League. In 2017 she earned an honorable mention spot on the All-League Team and in 2018 she was named a Summit League Player to Watch prior to the season.

In her three seasons as a Leatherneck, Steckler has produced 394 kills, good enough for 1.87 kills per set, and 27 service aces. The six-foot frontliner is also the anchor for the Western defense. Steckler has accumulated 205 total blocks and 88 digs in her career, 89 of those blocks coming in the 2018 campaign.

While the pieces are there, the Leathernecks weren’t able to prevail on Saturday as they fell to the Northern Illinois University Huskies four sets to one. While the exhibition may not have had the outcome the team wanted, it allows the team to figure out what they need to work on as the new season approaches. The team’s first match of the season takes place on Aug. 30th when the team faces Mississippi Valley State in the StarkVegas Classic. The team makes its first home appearance on September 10th in a non conference matchup against Drake.