Leathernecks’ volleyball picks up first win at StarkVegas Classic


Josh Purnell/ Photo Staff

Mackenzie Steckler goes up for a return.

David Koier, Courier Staff

STARKVILLE, Miss. — The Western Illinois Volleyball team traveled to Starkville, Miss. this weekend to participate in their first tournament of the season. The Starkvegas Classic pitted the Leathernecks against Mississippi Valley State, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Southeastern Conference (SEC) for Mississippi State.

Day one, the Leathernecks were underway with their 2019 season with a clean sweep of Mississippi Valley State. The Leatherneck offense, which posted a total of 47 kills in the game, was led by middle hitter Mackenzie Steckler who herself had 14 kills and a .542 hitting percentage against the Devilettes.

Head Coach Ben Staupe was pleased with the team’s performance. He told GoLeathernecks.com, “We were excited to start out the season with a strong offensive performance.”

With a quick break in between games, the Purple and Gold were back out on the court to face off against the Mocs of Chattanooga. Despite the quick turnaround, the Leathernecks were able to take a quick 10-4 lead thanks, in part, to three service aces.

The Mocs would fight back, eventually tying the game up at 19 apiece. A kill by senior outside hitter JoJo Kruize brought the Leathernecks up 20-19, but it wasn’t enough to turn the momentum in Western’s favor. An attacking error by Steckler followed by a poor set by freshman setter Jessie Connell gave the Mocs a 21-20 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Three straight kills later and the Mocs took set one from Western.

Western dropped the next two sets as well with scores of 25-19 and 25-14. The Purple and Gold still put up a strong offense with help from sophomore Mariah Mitchell who led the Leathernecks with 10 kills along with Kruize and Steckler who both recorded nine kills.

Saturday pitted the Purple and Gold against their toughest challenge of the weekend. Any time you face a Power 5 school in any sport, it is going to be a challenge. When it comes to the SEC, you know you’re playing the best of the best.

The Southeastern Conference currently has three of its 13 teams in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 (Florida at 7, Kentucky at 12 and Tennessee at 21). While Mississippi may not be in the Top 25, they still sit tied for first in the SEC standings.

The Leathernecks showed both offensive and defensive dominance in the first set against Mississippi State, holding the Bulldogs to just 15 while they themselves recorded 13 kills.

The second set did not go in favor of Western, as they dropped it to the Bulldogs 25-19. However, the Leathernecks were still able to statistically defeat Mississippi State, leading the Bulldogs in digs (19-14) and blocks (8-4).

The Leathernecks once again showed offensive and defensive prowess, beating the Bulldogs once again 25-15 and giving the Purple and Gold a 2-1 lead. The fourth set went back and forth until everything was all tied up at 23 apiece. A kill by Kruize and a block by Steckler forced the game into extra points. The Bulldogs were able to pull away, though, winning the set 26-24 and tying the game at 2-2.

The Leathernecks couldn’t pull out the upset in the fifth and final set as Mississippi were named the victors after a 15-7 victory. While the Leathernecks didn’t win the game, it doesn’t mean that the Leathernecks didn’t show their strong offensive play.

“Statistically we beat them in almost every category, but couldn’t come up with the win. We showed a lot of heart and growth throughout the match and the weekend,” Staupe told Athletic Communications.

Mariah Mitchell was named to the All-Tournament team after recording 33 kills and five and a half blocks. The Leathernecks travel to Southeast Missouri State Friday and Saturday to compete in the Redhawk Invitational.