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Redbirds Volleyball Perseveres through Senior Absences

Written by on February 6, 2021

Story contributed by Jake Fogal

NORMAL, Ill. – Following a .500 start through the first two weeksthe 1-1 (3-3 overall) Illinois State volleyball team heads to Terre Haute, Ind. to take on the 1-1 (1-2 overall) Indiana State Sycamores on Sunday and Monday. 

The Redbirds have split meetings with Marquette, Cincinnati, and Bradley, last being in action on Monday, as they were swept by the Braves.

The Redbirds may be without three seniors against the Sycamores. Sydney Holt has missed the last three matches with an undisclosed injury. Stef Jankiewicz and Kaylee Martin missed Monday’s match against Bradley, where the Redbirds were swept 3-0 by their central Illinois rival. 

Johnson said that both seniors were not cleared ahead of Monday’s match, but said neither has sustained an injury. A decision is to be made on Saturday, per Johnson.

Despite not having the three All-MVC First team seniors, Johnson found a way to make the experience a positive by subbing in the youth on her team.

“Frankly, that’s what I am most excited about because we were playing our sixth match of the 10-days, so how do we use this opportunity to expose our new players to carry the load. That’s what I liked about that Monday match,” said Johnson.

From what she saw on Monday, despite the loss, Johnson sees a bright future.

Through six matches, ISU has had four different starting lineups to begin the match. Besides adjustments after their first meeting against Marquette, missing Redbirds have caused some shake-ups in the rotation.

While starting lineups have been unpredictable for the Redbirds, Coach Johnson said she is impressed with her sophomores through six games. Highlighting Sarah Kushner, Kaity Weimerskirch, and Nicole LundJohnson went into detail of how this group has elevated the team.

“If you look at Sarah Kushner, she is touching the ball every play, she never slows down, she never backs off being aggressive. I’ve been really impressed with her and how she has kept her head about her. Last year she had peaks and valleys and [now] she is just so consistent and at a high level.” said Johnson.

“Kaity Weimerskirch, she is still in a DS [Defensive Specialist], role behind Kendal [Meier], but teams aren’t exploiting her. She has solidified her skills in a way that she can’t get pushed around. She is not that weak link that we have to adjust behind in situations. She is much more constant in her game, and she is starting to speak up more. Nicole Lund, she is not complaining. I get on her in practice pretty hard, one of the ideas in our gym is if you are a starter you get pushed harder by me because you set the tone. I have been on her, and she’s starting to be like, ‘You’re right coach! Let’s go.’ That’s the shift in the mentality of being a starter.”

Since beginning her tenure at ISU in 2017, Johnson is 6-0 against Indiana State. Accomplishing a sweep in five of the six meetings, although Johnson was quick to not overlook the Sycamores.

“Never assume a sweep, we assume a battle, always,” said Johnson.

On the season, the Sycamores split a series with Evansville and lost a five-set thriller against Butler on Thursday. 

The Sycamores lead the Missouri Valley Conference in kills this season, averaging 13.92 a set. Led by Madeline Williams, who leads the Valley in hitting percentage (.372%).  

Coach Johnson praised the junior middle blocker, calling her one of the more dynamic middles in the entire conference.

These two teams will meet first on Sunday at 2 p.m. and at 4 p.m. on Monday.