Thursday, October 11, 2018

Women's Volleyball: UIS volleyball sets sights on GLVC title and higher

Four years ago, new University of Illinois Springfield volleyball coach Trey Salinas was selling a vision of success.

It’s all he had. He was taking over a program that had won a total of 14 Great Lakes Valley Conference matches over the previous six seasons.

“I started going out (recruiting) thinking that I needed to change UIS volleyball’s reputation. Because I assumed we had a bad reputation,” Salinas said. “What I quickly found out was that we had no reputation. Most players, even in the Midwest, had never even heard of UIS."

“We tried to make that work for us because I quickly found out that I could get kids to come here if I could get them to visit campus -- if I could show them what UIS has to offer as an athlete and as a student. Once they knew that stuff was really good, I could share with them where we wanted the volleyball program to be and how they could thrive in it.”

Two current seniors believed in that vision and the program started to change.

Middle blocker Alyssa Hasler and setter Tiffany Wentworth came to Springfield in 2015 believing this is what they would help build.

“When I had my one-on-one conversation with coach, I realized I really wanted to play for him,” Wentworth said of her recruitment to UIS. “He told us it was going to be a work in progress and I was ready and wanted to be a part of that.”

The destination wasn’t always apparent during the journey.

Hasler, from South Bend, Indiana, leads all NCAA Division II players in total blocks and is third in blocks average. She originally came to Springfield largely based on the opportunity for immediate playing time for a team that had been 10-18 in 2014. She did get on the floor right from the start and led the 2015 team in blocks. She is now the school’s all-time leader in that category and is on the verge of reaching 1,000 career kills.

“The first two years were really tough for me, because I was coming from a high school program (Mishawaka Marian High School) where I was losing maybe two games a season,” Hasler said. “So coming here, where we knew we might only win two games a season was a big change. I want to win -- I want that competition. And sometimes I felt we didn’t have that as a team, which was frustrating."

“But as the time grew and as we got more confidence in ourselves that built up. That was important. Because we knew there was a lot of talent on the team but we weren’t winning. So we had to work through that.”

That team-first philosophy has paid off.

Last season the Prairie Stars finished 22-11 and 12-6 in the GLVC. It was the third straight season UIS’ win total jumped under Salinas.

They’re goals for the rest of the season are high. “We, for sure, want to win a conference championship,” Salinas said. “But our bigger goal is to make it to regionals.”

The players might be looking even higher. “We want to win regionals and make the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance,” Wentworth said.

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on October 10, 2018.

Read the entire article online.