For the first time since 2011, Missouri Southern's volleyball team is opening its season at home.
The Lions are the host for the Holiday Inn and Comfort Suites Southern Invite today and Saturday at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. Missouri Southern has two matches both days, facing Black Hills State at 1 p.m. and Colorado State-Pueblo at 7 today and Cameron and Southwestern Oklahoma State at the same times on Saturday.
Wayne State (Neb.) is also in the meet, which has six games each day starting at 9 a.m.
"Cameron just got a new head coach in July, and Colorado State-Pueblo also has a new coach," Lions coach Kalie Mader said. "Southwestern Oklahoma State is picked to win its conference. Wayne State is picked fourth in the Northern Sun, which is a really good conference. Black Hills State did not have a great year but has a lot of players back. There are some teams like us, looking to improve."
The Lions went 3-25 overall and 3-15 in MIAA play last season in Mader's first year at the helm.
"I think for us last season improving what our standards are was kind of a No. 1 priority," Mader said. "And making sure every single time we stepped on the court, we were stepping on the court to compete and compete well as a team ... just bringing in the culture of what it takes to be consistent long term. I think our biggest battle was shifting our culture and our mindset so that every single kid who has returned for us believes in us."
The Lions do have a lot of experience with 11 players returning.
"We did not lose a starter from last year," Mader said. "Morgan Nash (setter), this is her third year starting for us, Janelle Brehm (outside hitter), this is her third year and Alicia Pickett (middle blocker) her fourth year. Having those kids who have played a lot and been all-conference will be really good for us."
Brehm led the Lions with 269 kills last season, followed by sophomore Shaylon Sharp with 176 and Pickett with 125. Pickett made a team-high 70 blocks, and sophomore Olivia Lewis was next with 46.
Senior setter Kylee Kaaihue dished out 634 assists, served 18 aces and made 134 digs. Nash, who had 166 assists, led the defense with 372 digs, and Brehm had 278.
Juniors Brooklynn McCain, a transfer from Iowa Western, and Emalee Lowe, a transfer from Lee College, are expected to make immediate contributions on the back row, Mader said.
Holiday Inn and Comfort Suites Southern Invite
9 a.m.—Southwestern Oklahoma State vs. Black Hills State. 11—Wayne State vs. Cameron. 1 p.m.—Missouri Southern vs. Black Hills State. 3—Colorado State-Pueblo vs. Cameron. 5—SW Oklahoma vs. Wayne State. 7—MSSU vs. CSU-Pueblo.
9 a.m.—Black Hills State vs. Wayne State. 11—SW Oklahoma vs. CSU-Pueblo. 1 p.m.—MSSU vs. Cameron. 3—CSU-Pueblo vs. Wayne State. 5—Black Hills State vs. Cameron. 7—MSSU vs. SW Oklahoma.