The Southwestern Illinois College women’s volleyball team began its season last month with several quality players from a team returning from a team which finished one game under .500 and were competitive with many of the top teams in the nation a year ago.
What the Blue Storm lacks is depth. With only 10 players on its roster, one of the biggest concerns for Thomas is the health of his team which has already lost sophomore middle blocker Carrie Rakers of New Baden for three to four weeks with an ankle injury.
“It was a situation and I’m sure all coaches go through this at one time at another when you recruit players for certain positions and they decide to attend other schools. That’s what happened to us this year,” Thomas said.
“Now, we do have a number of high quality players. We just lack depth. With 10 on our roster we’re going to need several of the players to play multiple positions. We just can’t afford to have any injuries.’’
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Despite the loss of Rakers, one of three 6-foot hitters on the roster, and the lack of depth, the Blue Storm continues to march on. Heading into its Great Rivers Athletic Conference game with Kaskaskia College, the Blue Storm had won six of its first seven matches.
“I’ve been pleased at how the girls have played so far this season,’’ Thomas said. “We were running a 6-2 offense, but now with the loss of Carrie (Rakers) we’ve made the switch to the 5-1 and it seems to fit out style of play a little better.
“Each year we’re getting better and I really feel the program is headed in the right direction. The key is that we’re recruiting better athletes and better volleyball players. I’ve got a list of probably 15-16 players that we’re looking at for next year.”
Milligan sisters, Britton leading the way
While losing Rakers, a quality athlete, is a blow to the all around effectiveness of the Blue Storm, Thomas still has plenty of talent of which to work. Sophomore sisters Caitlyn and Michaela Milligan from Rochester are among the top returnees.
Caitlyn Milligan, although only 5-7, slammed down 65 kills in SWIC’S first six matches. Sister Michaela MIlligan is one of the Blue Storm’s leaders both on and off the court, while also providing solid play at setter.
Sophomore Anne Britton has also made progress as a setter and could be a steady player at the NCAA Division II or Division III level should she want to continue her volleyball career next season.
Sophomore Mia Reed ( Waterloo) hopes her sophomore season is better after she struggled through an injury-prone freshman season, while other sophomore expected to play a key role is Connie Warren (Louisville, Il.)
Thomas has also been pleased with the play of freshmen Cassidy Frank from Hillsboro, who has staked her claim as the Blue Storm’s libero. Former Steeleville High School player Hannah Trevathan has also done a good job as a defensive specialist.
But for SWIC to be successful, it must also get production from Belleville East graduate Shelby Ridgeway and Kelly Hamilton of Ava. Both are outside hitters.
Blue Storm soccer teams
Both the SWIC men’s and women’s soccer teams have struggled out of the gate in the early stages of the ‘16 season. Coach Larry Petri’s men’s team is 1-2-1 heading into a game on Thursday with Illinois Central College in Peoria.
The women’s team — 0-2-1 — following a four day trip to Florida, will travel to Lincoln College on Saturday before returning home to play its home opener on Sunday against Johnson County at noon.