Webster volleyball to play exclusively conference schedule to return to SLIAC tournament

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The Webster volleyball team will begin its 2021 season playing against Westminster. The St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference volleyball season will be conference play only.

The 2021 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Volleyball season will be exclusively conference play and include an eight-team playoff bracket to determine this year’s SLIAC champion. 

Webster enters this season tied with the second-best record in the SLIAC over the last five years. Only Greenville has more wins with 81 to Webster’s 72. Westminster also has 72 wins. No non-conference play should bode well for the Gorloks as Webster’s winning percentage in conference (.800) is much higher than their overall winning percentage (.561). 

Greenville and Westminster should pose the biggest challenge to the Gorloks this year per usual. In their last 10 meetings, Webster is 7-13 against the two while posting a record of 47-3 against all other conference opponents. If those percentages hold true, Webster should win around 10 games in the 14-game season. 

Webster coach Merry Graf is just happy to be able to compete again after the extended off-season. 

“We are just excited to compete and the opponents name won’t matter to us,” Graf said.

Junior defensive specialist Kyra Gensel is also excited to be back on the court, but will miss being able to play non-conference rivals. 

“[Playing an only conference schedule] is not ideal because we don’t get as much variation. I’m going to miss playing [Washington University] and Rose Hulman,” Gensel said.

Webster begins and ends their 2021 season playing Westminster, the team that ended their 2019 season. Westminster would go on to be the 2019 SLIAC Champions. The two Wesminster graduating seniors, setter Teresa Becker and outside-hitter Ashley Kistatis, were named first-team all-conference in 2019 for Wesminster. Four of the other five starters will return, including 2019’s SLIAC Newcomer of the Year outside-hitter Eryka Wanyonyi. 

Graphic by Robby Floyd

Next, Webster will host Blackburn College. Since going 0-18 in 2016, Blackburn has been steadily improving, finishing with eight conference wins last season, the most in school history. Although they’ll say goodbye to Kendall Burleyson, all-time school leader in aces and assists, they will return the majority of their core. Lucy Magnussen had the fifth highest Blackburn single-season kill total last year with 254 as a sophomore. Amanda Swedberg tallied 442 digs last season as a freshman, good for second most in school history. 

Fontbonne University will be the Gorloks first road trip. Fontbonne finished with just six conference wins last season, the least since 2012. Maura Rabun, the school’s only all-conference representative last season (third team), graduated at the end of last season. Rae Andrews was the second best attacker on the team, and 2021 will be her senior season. 

In their fourth game, Webster will take on Greenville. Greenville was upset by MacMurray in the SLIAC tournament semi-final, but still recorded a 17-1 regular season conference record. SLIAC 2019 Player of the Year Anna Finch is back for her senior season as Greenville looks to win their fifth SLIAC tournament championship in the last six years. 

Eureka is next on the schedule for the Gorloks. Since winning seven conference games in 2017, the most since 2009, Eureka has been going downhill. Eureka won four games in 2018 and just two last season and had no players recognized on the all-conference team. Eureka has still never beaten Webster. 

After Eureka, Webster will take on Spalding. After a winless 2018 conference season, Spalding bounced back last year, going 9-9 in conference play. Cassie Jones and Mya Summers are both returning after being named third-team all-conference last season. 

Iowa Wesleyan will try to defeat Webster for the first time in their last 15 matchups this season. Iowa Wesleyan has not been able to surpass the eight conference wins they got in their first season in the SLIAC. Last year, Iowa Wesleyan went 6-12. Lida Landre, the lone all-conference member for Iowa Wesleyan (first-team), has graduated, so the team will have to find a way to replace her production. 

Last year was the first time the SLIAC crowned a volleyball champion that was not Webster or Greenville since 2005. All eight conference teams will qualify for the SLIAC tournament this year, which leaves the door open for anyone to capture the championship. 

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Robby Floyd
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