REDHAWKS EAGER TO CHALLENGE FOR OVC CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2007
Aug. 22, 2007
By Corey Miggins, Assistant Sports Information Director
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - The Southeast Missouri State volleyball team heads into the 2007 season looking to return to the upper echelon of the Ohio Valley Conference standings under third-year head coach Renata Nowacki with a mixture of experience and youth.
The Redhawks bring great enthusiasm after making a spirited run to the OVC Tournament finals at the end of the 2006 season, which included upset victories over the tournament's second (Tennessee State) and third-seeded (Murray State) teams. Southeast concluded the year with a record of 16-18 and finished sixth in the OVC with an 8-8 conference ledger.
Coach "Ren" welcomes back eight letterwinners from last season's team, including four key starters, while four newcomers arrive on campus this fall looking to help the Redhawks contend for the OVC crown.
Sophomore Sarah Barth (Germantown, Ill.) enters her second season ready to lead Southeast's offense as the team's starting setter. Barth finished her inaugural NCAA campaign by producing 283 assists, which already ranks her eighth among the school's all-time assist leaders, and 98 digs while earning eight starts.
Serving as Barth's backup this year will be junior Alyssa Aston (Franklin, Tenn.). Aston posted 185 digs and 51 assists while playing both setter and defensive specialist positions during the 2006 season.
Junior Kim Unnerstall (Washington, Mo.) is another experienced player for Southeast that appeared in 20 matches last season. Unnerstall is looking to contend for quality time at the outside hitter position this season.
Three newcomers looking to make an immediate impact on the offensive end for Southeast this season are Aubrey Dondlinger (Palos Heights, Ill.), Kelly Benacka (Algonquin, Ill.) and Claire Keaton (St. Louis, Mo.).
Dondlinger, an all-conference and all-region honoree at Parkland College, averaged 3.8 kills in 2006 while guiding the Cobras to a 42-8 record, a Mid-West Athletic Conference title and a ranking of fourth in the NJCAA Division II national poll. Benacka claimed honorable mention all-state honors at Jacobs High School along with being a two-time all-area selection by the Daily Herald and Northwest Herald. Keaton is a two-time Missouri state champion at St. Louis powerhouse Incarnate Word Academy where she was team captain as a senior.
Also looking to impress in her first NCAA campaign is freshman Emily Hughes (Memphis, Tenn.). Hughes claimed all-state honors in her final prep season and was a two-time all-region honoree at Memphis' St. Benedict High School.
Senior Sirma Ozenir (Izmir, Turkey) enters her final collegiate season as the team's defensive specialist after tallying 86 digs (1.41 dpg) during the 2006 season. She added 25 assists and six service aces in 27 matches played.
Newcomer Kelly Benacka will also look to garner some playing time in the back row for Southeast in addition to playing up front at outside hitter.
The Redhawks begin the year this weekend with a trip to Muncie, Ind., for the Nike/Active Ankle Invitational at Ball State to take on Ohio State, Maine and the host Cardinals. Other tournaments Southeast will compete in are the UNF Labor Day Classic (Aug. 31-Sept. 1) and the SLU Santo Bento Invitational (Sept. 7-8), where it will battle such teams as Connecticut, Weber State, North Florida, Saint Louis and UTSA.
Following the tournament schedule, Southeast opens its 20-match Ohio Valley Conference slate at Tennessee State (Sept. 14), Tennessee Tech (Sept. 15) and Eastern Illinois (Sept. 18). The Redhawks then welcome conference foe Murray State to Houck Fieldhouse on Sept. 21 to begin their 12-match home slate that includes a pair of non-conference contests against Memphis (Sept. 26) and Southern Illinois (Oct. 9).
Southeast closes the year with four of their final five regular-season contests at Houck, which includes a Senior Day match on Nov. 9 against Austin Peay. The OVC Tournament will take place on Nov. 15-19 at the site of the regular-season champion with six teams vying for a spot in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.