SFA Takes Split On Season’s First Day

DeKalb, Ill. - The opening day of the 2009 season got off to an early, but productive, start as SFA fought off a slow start to sweep Illinois-Chicago, 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-16) in the opening match of the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational hosted by Northern Illinois. SFA then fell victim to Southern Illinois, 3-0 (25-18, 25-22, 25-21), to Southern Illinois in the second match of the day.

The first match of the season was an early one as the Ladyjacks started at 10:00 a.m. against Illinois-Chicago and fought off a slow start to take a  win over the Flames. SFA held the Flames to just an .027 attack percentage in the final two sets, while dropping in nine aces and rejecting nine shots on their way to the season-opening win. It was the third straight season-opening win for SFA and the fourth in the last five years.

Four Ladyjacks totaled at least five kills, paced by Ashley Bailey's nine kills on 16 swings with no errors. "I thought out energy was really good this morning and carried over from our preseason practices," head coach Debbie Humphreys said. "Illinois-Chicago was much more of a scrappy team than we anticipated and gave us a tough time early on, but we eventually got going and picked up a nice win." MC Bottles finished with six blocks led an SFA defense that rejected eight Flames' shots and held UIC to an overall .101 hitting percentage on the day.

The Ladyjacks finished with a .190 attack mark, including a .269 clip in the final two sets. Paloma Buckner dished out 25 assists in the three-set affair and Kelsey Owens, Williams-Roberts and Laurel Kuepker each kept alive 10 digs. SFA had their serves working well also, Kuepker and freshman Madison Hanlan led all players with by dropping in four apiece.

UIC jumped out to an early 18-9 lead in the first set before the Ladyjacks rallied to take its first lead at 22-21 and eventually close it out by winning 15 of the set's final 20 points. SFA won the set despite hitting just .082, but four Ladyjack aces and five kills from Amber Williams-Roberts was enough to get SFA the win. In the second set it was nearly the total opposite as SFA raced to an 18-10 lead behind four kills from Bottles and three more from Bailey. But the Flames then sparked a rally of their own, melting the lead down to two points at 20-18. However, seven of the next eight points went SFA's way and the Ladyjacks took a commanding 2-0 lead into the locker room on Hanlan's set-clinching ace.

The third set was all SFA as the Ladyjacks made quick work of the clinching frame, getting three kills apiece from Bailey and Owens and never trailing at a single point. Things went back and forth early on before SFA finally created some cushion at 14-8 behind serves from Kuepker and Hanlan. A pair of kills from Owens helped push the lead to 17-9 before UIC eventually got within five points at 21-16; however, that margin was short-lived as a kill from Bailey got the serve back on the SFA side and Hanlan served out the remaining three points to close things out. In the second match of the day SFA got double-digit kills from both Owens and Williams-Roberts, but only swung at a .112 clip and were swept, by a fresh Southern Illinois team that was playing its first match of the day.

Buckner finished with 36 assists in the second match, while Owens tied SIU's Jennifer Berwanger for match-high honors with 13 kills. Williams-Roberts added 11 kills and Hanlan had 15 digs, but SFA misfired 30 times in the three sets compared to only 11 attack errors for SIU to spell the difference. The Ladyjacks could only manage a .121 hitting percentage in the first set of the afternoon as the Saulkis took the lead at 11-10 and did not give it back.

In the second set SFA managed to trim the margin to just 25-22, but committed 10 more attack errors and three service errors to aid the Saluki cause and give SIU a 2-0 lead at the half. Owens slammed in seven of her 13 kills in the final set as the Ladyjacks were on fire early, building a 14-6 lead on kills from Owens, Bailey and Buckner; however, SIU was able to withstand the Ladyjack efforts and started chipping away at the lead until finally taking a lead of its own at 19-18. The Salukis then rode kills from Berwanger and Chandra Roberson to the final six points of the match to close out the sweep. SFA wraps up the tournament on Saturday with a pair of matches, at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., against Western Illinois and host Northern Illinois.

Each of the games can be followed via Gametracker at www.niuhuskies.com .