Volleyball opens up conference play with an away loss to Fort Wayne

David Koier, Courier Staff

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After matching last year’s win total during their preseason tournament schedule, head coach Ben Staupe and the Western Illinois Leathernecks women’s volleyball team marched into Fort Wayne this Tuesday to play in their first conference matchup against the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons. The Leathernecks played strong behind the defensive leadership of Mackenzie Steckler but fell to the Mastodons three sets to none.

Steckler, who has been a force at the net so far this season, found out some exciting news on Monday before the team headed to Fort Wayne. On Monday, the NCAA came out with team and individual rankings across the nation. Steckler found herself ranked sixth in the nation in total blocks with 74 and 16th in the nation in blocks per set with 1.51.

Steckler and her senior teammate JoJo Kruize started set one off strong for the Purple and Gold with a tandem block. Summit League leader in serving aces Jessie Connell took advantage of the block and recorded an ace to put the Leathernecks up 2-0.

The Mastodons took the next seven thanks to a kill by senior Elizabeth Fuerst and five attacking errors by Western. This proved to be too much for Western as Fort Wayne took set one 25-15.

Set two didn’t go any better for the Purple and Gold. A 7-0 run thanks to a pair of kills by Katie Crowe and a duo of service aces by Madison Gates gave the Mastodons another lead that Western couldn’t recover from.

The Leathernecks have struggled throughout the season with their hitting percentage. In set one, not only was Western’s hitting percentage sub-.100, it wasn’t even positive. In the first set, Western recorded 10 errors while only earning eight kills for a -.056 hitting percentage. The Leathernecks did better in the second set with a .097.

Western started set three with another service ace by Connell and took advantage of an attacking error by Fuerst. A serving error by Connell and an ace by Crowe tied up set three at two apiece.

Kills by Steckler and freshman Aubrey Putman put the Leathernecks on top again. The set went back and forth for a while, but it looked like Western would run away with it. A service ace by Putman gave Western a 17-13 lead over Fort Wayne. A kill by the Mastodons and two attacking errors by Western brought the set back within one.

A few back and forths put Western back up 20-17. A kill by Mastodon freshman Sidney Schiller was the turning point in the set for the Mastodons. Down 20-18, three straight service aces by Alexandra Traciak catapulted Fort Wayne up 21-20, a lead they did not relinquish. Four straight points ended the set in favor of the Mastodons who completed the sweep for their first Summit League win of the season.

Set three proved to be Western’s best of the evening, recording 12 kills and only six errors for a hitting percentage of .182. While the offense may not have been there for the Leathernecks, the Purple and Gold were still able to out-block the Mastodons nine to five. Leading Western in blocks were Steckler, Mariah Mitchell and Elle Shult.

The Leathernecks will head to Brookings, S.D. on Sunday to take on South Dakota State.

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