The Western Illinois Leatherneck volleyball team will have their hands full this weekend as they hit the road to face off against two of the top three teams in The Summit League this weekend. The Purple and Gold travel to Vermillion, S.D. today to take on the 6-0 (17-1 overall) University of South Dakota Coyotes.
South Dakota has looked impressive all season. The Coyotes competed against some tough opponents this preseason. They were able to go toe to toe with Power Five conference Iowa Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten and took that match over the Hawkeyes 3-2. Their lone loss on the season came against another Power Five team in the Iowa State Cyclones.
Making a splash this season for the Coyotes has been freshman Elizabeth Juhnke. The outside hitter leads the team with 267 kills and 299.5 points, placing her third in the Summit League in the latter category. Juhnke has been dominant since the beginning, earning herself a Summit League Offensive Player of the Week for the week of Sept. 3.
Sept. 3 was when the Coyotes faced Iowa State. Juhnke led her squad with 10 kills and 10.5 points while also recording seven digs and one assisted block. Other Coyotes who have won Player of the Week honors this season are Madison Jurgens (Sept. 10, Offensive), Maddie Wiedenfeld (Sept. 10, Defensive) and Anne Rasmussen who has won Defensive Player of the Week honors three times this season most recently this past week.
The Leathernecks are going to have to pull out all the stops if they are going to topple the League-leading Coyotes. Mackenzie Steckler may prove to be a roadblock for the South Dakota offense. The redshirt-junior leads the Summit League (T-13 in the nation) with 91 total blocks. Steckler has shown all season that she can be a force at the net and will need to step up big to try and slow down Juhnke.
The offensive duo of senior JoJo Kruize and sophomore Mariah Mitchell have been strong all season for the Leathernecks. Mitchell leads the Purple and Gold with 171 kills with Kruize close behind at 159.
While the duo has been strong, the Leathernecks overall have struggled to gain momentum in some matches. Low hitting percentage and high amounts of attacking errors have led to struggles this season. The Leathernecks rank low in The Summit League when it comes to hitting percentage with a .181. The Coyotes lead the league with a .269 percentage of their own.
After the Leathernecks battle in Vermillion, they travel to Denver to face the third place Pioneers on Sunday. The Pioneers are 4-2 in the conference (12-6 overall), posting losses against Purdue Fort Wayne and the Coyotes. In the preseason, the Pioneers battled with the likes of No. 20 Hawaii (lost 3-1) and No. 2 Nebraska (lost 3-0).
The Leathernecks take on some of The Summit League’s best beginning at 7 p.m. against South Dakota and finishing up with a 1 p.m. matchup in Denver on Sunday.