Volleyball season comes to an end

David Koier, Courier Staff

The season came to a close this past Sunday for the Western Illinois Leathernecks volleyball team. With a 3-0 loss to the No. 2 Summit League ranked Denver Pioneers, the Purple and Gold finished the season with a 6-23 overall record and 3-13 conference staple.

Under the tutelage of second year head coach Ben Staupe, the Leathernecks were able to double their overall victories from their 2018 campaign. Western also was able to improve its net defense from 2018 as Staupe’s defensive front recorded 234.5 total blocks this season, 27 more than 2018, good for third in The Summit League.

The 2019 season was highlighted by a match that took place early on in the season. In the Purple and Gold’s first tournament of the season, they faced off in their final match of the weekend against the Mississippi State Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference.

Going up against a Power Five Volleyball team would go on to be one of the toughest battles of the season for the Leathernecks, but it also showed the team’s heart and passion early on. Western took set one against the Bulldogs 25-15, outkilling them 13-8.

Western kept it close by exchanging blows the next three sets 25-19 (Mississippi State), 25-15 (Western) and a down to the wire set four which almost saw Western complete the upset only to fall 26-24. Heading to the fifth and final set, the Leathernecks felt all the support from all across Leatherneck social media.

Western Illinois women’s basketball head coach JD Gravina tweeted out right before the start of the fifth set, a picture of the match’s stream with the caption: “Pull up ESPN3 right this second and watch @WIUVolleyball battle Miss St! They already had 1 match point and now it’s the first team to 15 in game 5!”

The Bulldogs would go on to take set five over the Leathernecks 15-7, but not before Western made their statement. Western was able to get the better of the Bulldogs in kills (50-48), points (73-63), service aces (7-6) and blocks (16-9). Mackenzie Steckler was a force on the net that day, outblocking the entire opposing defense with 12 total blocks on the day accompanied by five kills.

With the season coming to a close, the Leatherneck volleyball family had to say goodbye to three seniors who meant so much to the program.

Steckler finished the season a nationally ranked blocker with 146 blocks on the year, 206 career blocks and 395 career kills. Riley Schumacher participated all four years in her time at Western Illinois. Over her time with the program she totaled 194 kills and 121 blocks. JoJo Kruize joined the team this year and immediately made and impact. She finished the season with 264 kills and 211 digs, both good enough for second on the team.

While the season may not have ended the way the team had hoped, the team has a bright future ahead. There will be space to fill with the loss of three key seniors, but young up and coming talent has already stepped up to fill their shoes.

Sophomore Mariah Mitchell led the team in kills with 269 and had a team best .261 hitting percentage while also assisting Steckler at the net with 81 total blocks on the year. Freshman Elle Shult, Jessie Connell and Aubrey Putman also made a name for themselves this year and now, with a year under their belts, can only look ahead to what lies in store next year.