Experience pays dividends in SEMO's latest OVC victory

Southeast Missouri State outside hitter Annie Wehrheim (2) hits the ball during a game against Austin Peay Thursday at Houck Field House in Cape Girardeau.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian

Two hours into its Ohio Valley Conference volleyball match Thursday at Houck Field House with Austin Peay, the Southeast Missouri State volleyball squad was apparently on the ropes.

After winning two sets 25-21 and 25-23, the Governors had stormed back with impressive wins in the third (25-19) and fourth sets (25-17) to tie the match and seize every bit of momentum.

It was a mirage.

Austin Peay scored the very first point of the decisive fifth set but the Redhawks found their game and eventually won the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.

“They were in system,” ninth-year Southeast coach Julie Yankus said of Austin Peay, “so they were able to stop all three attackers, almost all of the time, which is really tough to defend.”

There were several reasons why the loss of momentum didn’t negatively impact Southeast (19-8, 11-2 Ohio Valley Conference). The Redhawks are athletic enough to hurt teams both offensively and defensively, but more than anything, they are experienced.

Of the nine athletes that Yankus utilized, four were seniors and three were juniors.

“We have a lot of people who have returned from a winning season last year,” Yankus said. “They get that experience and they are more composed.

“We’ve gone to five (sets) a lot, so we are used to being there.”

And these Redhawks are now used to winning.

Southeast hasn’t had a winning season within the OVC since 2013, but as players such as middle blocker Krista Berns, liberos Emily Boggetto and Ally Dion, and outside hitters Mikayla Kuhlmann, Annie Wehrheim, and Maggie Adams took their lumps in the past, they began to achieve some degree of success and now they form the nucleus of a very confident group.

“Definitely,” Yankus said, “experience plays a big role (in our success) and also leadership. The leaders of this team do a great job of pushing the expectations.”

The win Thursday was the program’s seventh consecutive and puts the Redhawks in sole possession of first place in the conference.

Morehead State (10-2) has four matches remaining but Southeast beat the Eagles 3-0 earlier this season so it holds the tiebreaker for the championship if it wins its remaining three matches.

The Redhawks will honor Wehrheim, Berns, Kuhlmann, and Boggetto tonight on Senior Night against Murray State (6 p.m.).

As freshmen, three of those (Wehrheim joined the program in 2017) players endured a seven-win season but through experience have grown into a 2019 juggernaut.

“When we go to four and five (sets),” Yankus said, “we don’t lose our composure. We know we can come back from it. We have been very resilient.”

Adams, who was recently honored by the OVC as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week, was strong offensively against Austin Peay (9-18, 7-6).

The 6-foot-2 junior hitter totaled 16 kills while assisting on seven blocks.

Junior Laney Malloy had a double-double with 13 kills and 18 digs, while Berns (seven block assists), Kuhlmann (12 kills and six block assists), Claire Ochs (47 assists and 12 digs), and Tara Beilsmith (24 digs) also contributed in the win.

A victory tonight will match the 12 league wins registered by the 2012 squad with the 13 wins (2007 OVC champions) is in sight next weekend.

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