SEMO volleyball seeks to 'block' SEC power in NCAA opener

Southeast Missouri State middle blocker Maggie Adams (3) hits the ball against Austin Peay earlier this season at Houck Field House in Cape Girardeau.
Tyler Graef ~ Southeast Missourian

There was not another team in the Southeastern Conference that hit to the percentage that the Kentucky volleyball squad did (29.5 percent) this season.

The Wildcats successfully connected on 939 attacks for kills and that played a significant role in outside hitter Leah Edmonds being named as the SEC Player of the Year.

“Their outside (hitters) are really, really solid,” Southeast Missouri State coach Julie Yankus said. “Leah Edmond is an amazing outside hitter. She terminates well. Basically, any kind of situation they put her in, she can put the ball away.

She does not have a distinct shot, so she’ll be hard to defend.”

Yankus has spent all week trying to figure out a strategy to do just that, as her Redhawks will visit Lexington tonight at 6:30 p.m. (Central time) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to face the three-time SEC champion.

Senior blocker Krista Berns and junior blocker Maggie Adams will be handed the task of trying to contain Edmond and the rest of her attacking teammates, but the defense of the athletic Wildcats (23-6) begins long before the ball is set up for Edmond to crush, according to Yankus.

“We’re going to try and serve aggressively,” Yankus said. “We are in a conference (the Ohio Valley) that is very ball-control oriented, so we really work on serving aggressively and we’re good at passing the ball.”

Southeast (23-10) earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament by winning the three-game OVC Tournament.

In that event, Yankus’ strategy worked well enough to keep her team alive despite being challenged repeatedly.

“We’re going to try and get Kentucky out of system as best we can,” Yankus said. “We know that they are going to go to the outside most of the time anyway. If we can get them out of system, then we can release our blockers and go camp on their outside (hitters).”

Adams earned First Team All-OVC honors after leading the Redhawks with 130 total blocks. Within OVC play, Adams had 79 blocks, which led the league.

Berns had 105 total blocks, which was sixth in the OVC.

“We hope for some stuff blocks and some good touches,” Yankus said.

A confident crew

Southeast has enjoyed its most successful season since the 23-win team in 2000, which also advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

It is the sixth time in program history for Southeast to get this far.

“Their attitude all week has been they are focused, they are determined,” Yankus said of her team. “We are appreciative and trying to enjoy this experience.”

The Redhawks OVC Tournament title was their first since 2000 and sixth overall.

“They know that this is a unique experience for us,” Yankus said, “and let’s enjoy the moment. But we are confident. We know that if we stick to our game plan, that is the biggest focus, we’re going to play SEMO volleyball.

“We’re going to fight and we’re going to compete and we’ll put on a good show on Friday.”

Keep it rolling

In her initial three seasons in Cape Girardeau, Yankus guided the Southeast program to winning marks in the OVC. However, prior to this fall, the Redhawks hadn’t had a winning record in league play in five years.

Yankus believes the positive momentum has swung back in the Redhawks’ direction.

“You can talk about those years where you struggle,” Yankus said, “whether it’s due to injury, team chemistry, (or) things like that.

“The biggest thing that is helping us sustain that competitiveness is we still have a lot of returning athletes on this team.”

The Redhawks will graduate four of their top nine players, but five, including Adams and junior hitter Laney Malloy (First Team All-OVC), sophomore setter Claire Ochs and freshman libero Tara Beilsmith (each Second Team All-OVC) will return.

“When you can success,” Yankus said, “you start recruiting those athletes that understand that the expectation is to win here.”

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