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Redbirds flock to Southern Illinois for season finale

Written by on March 27, 2021

Photo courtesy of Illinois State Athletics

Normal, Ill. – Having not played a match away from Normal in 47 days, the Illinois State Redbirds traveled down to Carbondale on Friday, to which head coach Leah Johnson described as a ‘weird’ feeling.

In a season that has been beyond weird, the 9-3 (11-5 overall) Redbirds challenge the 1-15 (2-16 overall) Southern Illinois Salukis in the regular season finale. 

Getting hot at the right time, the Redbirds are riding a four-match win streak over the likes of Missouri State and Evansville. ISU found its way into the Top 25 (No. 23) of the latest RPI poll. Although this weekend will mark the end of the Salukis season, Johnson is not overlooking last place SIU ahead of postseason play. 

“The deceiving thing is that they take everyone to four points, they don’t get blown out, they take sets on people. They are kind of that scary team in the sense that they are good enough if you are not playing well,” said Johnson. 

On the other hand, if the Redbirds can sweep past Southern Illinois, they guarantee themselves the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley Tournament on Thursday. A split though could knock the Redbirds down to the Thursday game, compared to a Friday debut as the one or two seed. 

Sitting behind the Redbirds in the MVC standings are Drake and Bradley. Earlier this season, ISU swept the Bulldogs but split its series with Bradley after missing Stef Jankiewicz, Kaylee Martin and Sydney Holt for the second match. 

Looking to keep the momentum moving upwards, Johnson spoke on how her team needs to keep focus despite not having a ton to play for against the Salukis. 

“I think that we need to look for a different fuel because right now there is this build-up to the conference tournament and in a sense, we are playing a team that has nothing to lose and has nothing to gain,” said Johnson.  

That’s a dangerous zone where we only have something to gain and something to lose in this situation. We are going to internalize our focus and see if we can best ourselves throughout the course of the match.” 

Something that has not happened too often during Johnson’s tenure as the Redbirds head coach is maintaining a 100% healthy roster. That may change on Sunday as Kendee Hilliard is said to be absent from Saturday’s contest, but will be making the trip separately to play on Sunday.  

The two matches will take place at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in Carbondale, Ill.