Story by Bryan Edwards, contributing writer
The top two teams in the OVC clashed in Racer Arena Saturday when the second place Cougars of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville squared off against the first place Murray State Racer volleyball team.
With OVC championship implications in the balance, the Racers defeated the Cougars 3-2 (22-25, 25-10, 17-25, 25-21, 15-10) and clinched the OVC regular season championship in five sets for their third-straight conference title.
The Cougars opened the match with a 6-3 lead and battled to keep the lead throughout the set. The Racers got it as close as 22-21 but couldn’t take the lead. The Cougars won the first set 25-22.
Murray State opened the second set on an 8-1 run, with three of those points coming from junior outside hitter Kamille Jones. The Racers kept their foot on the gas and won the second set 25-10.
The Cougars answered in the third and after opening the set ahead 7-4, the Racers scored four consecutive points to take an 8-7 lead. From there, the Cougars went on a 15-2 run to take a commanding 22-10 lead. The Racers fought back scoring seven of the next eight points, but the gap was too large and the Cougars closed the set 25-17.
The fourth set was a battle to the end, with both teams going back and forth throughout the set. The Racers got an edge in the match late taking a 19-15 lead, and after the Cougars took two points to make it 19-17, the Racers held on to take the fourth set 25-21.
After winning the fourth set, the Racers clinched a share of the OVC regular season championship and home court advantage for the OVC Tournament.
The Racers opened the fifth set on a 7-2 run to take an early advantage. The Cougars went on a 6-2 run of their own to cut the Racer lead to one at 9-8. Murray State then went on a 6-2 run and clinched the win with a service ace from senior setter Hannah Stultz.
Head Coach David Schwepker said he was happy with the way they distributed the ball.
“We wanted to make sure the attack was spread out tonight,” Schwepker said. “We were just happy to come in and get the win.”
Five Racers recorded double-digit kills, but the team was led by senior outside hitter Scottie Ingram, who had 16 kills and with 23 digs, recording her 20th double-double of the season. Stultz led the team with 55 assists and senior libero Ellie Lorenz led the team with 29 digs.
Seniors Scottie Ingram, Kristen Besselsen, Ellie Lorenz, Hannah Stultz and Audrey Lewis were honored before the game, and after the game, it was announced that Ingram will be the first volleyball player in Murray State history to have her jersey retired.
“She deserved it and I’m so happy for her,” Schwepker said. “She’s done so much for this team and this program, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
The two-time OVC Player of the Year said she had no idea that it was going to happen and was left speechless about the honor but said she was proud of her team and the effort they showed.
“We don’t have one hitter, we have 10,” Ingram said. “The entire team stepped up tonight, and when we have players on the bench that could come out and perform just as good if not better than the people they’re replacing. One person didn’t do this alone — we all did it and this is the best team I’ve ever played on.”
The Racers will begin their quest for an OVC Tournament Championship at 7 p.m. Thursday when they play Jacksonville State in the first round of the tournament in Racer Arena.