Redhawks Invitational next for the Leathernecks

(NEWS3 Sports) – The Western Illinois volleyball team travels to Southeast Missouri State on Friday for the Redhawk Invitational in Cape Girardeau. The Leathernecks will play Evansville, Southeast Missouri State, and Jackson State.

WIU (1-2) began the 2019 season at the Starkvegas Classic last week in Starkville, Mississippi. After beating Missouri Valley State 3-0 in the opener, the Leathernecks lost to Chattanooga 3-0, and to Mississippi State 3-2 in the finale.

“This year Coach Ben (Staupe) is putting a lot of emphasis on changing the culture of the program that a lot of us just don’t know how to finish,” senior JoJo Kruize said. “Just don’t know how to put that little exclamation mark on it. We have written the sentence but we don’t know how to end it.”

Western Illinois showed strong defense at the net during the first tournament of the year. WIU totaled 36 blocks, with 28 of them coming against Mississippi State. Redshirt junior Mackenzie Steckler registered 12 blocks against MSU, which ranks fourth all-time for a single match in school history.

Sophomore Mariah Mitchell recorded 33 kills and 5.5 blocks in three games, earning a spot on the all-tournament team.

“I feel like energy drives everything, talking to your hitters of course,” Mariah Mitchell said. “I think our coaches did a good job of telling us what they were going to run out of certain rotations so we always knew what to expect and our middles did a great job of closing in.”

The Leathernecks hope they can bring the same type of energy to the Redhawk Invitational, where three more tough challengers await.

“We need to grow personally and we need make sure our culture stays strong,” head coach Ben Staupe said. “It’s hard to keep that strong when you are 1-2 or wind up 1-6. We are hoping to see this team with a chip on their shoulder and hoping to grab close wins. That’s what we need to gain the confidence.”

WIU takes on Evansville at 10 AM on Friday, followed by Southeast Missouri State at 7 p.m The Leathernecks wrap up the tournament on Saturday against Jackson State at 11 a.m.