After dominating the Mississippi Valley Conference and earning the third-place trophy at the Class 3A State Volleyball Tournament the past two years, the Mascoutah Indians have come back to the pack during the first two weeks of the season.
But senior Tieghan Morio isn’t worried.
A first-team All-MVC and all-area outside hitter a year ago, Morio enters her senior season with a team short on experience.
Gone are Megan Lindsay, Amanda Jung, Liza Gober, Lacey Albers and Katirah Johnson who all helped Mascoutah win 65 matches.
Now it’s up to Morio to lead the attack.
“I don’t know if I’d say we’re putting any pressure on ourselves. I think the pressure is coming from expectations of what we’ve been able to accomplish the last two years,” Morio said. “People don’t realize that we’re a different team this year than we’ve been the past few years, in that we don’t have the big power hitters or the blockers that we’ve had. “We’ve still got good hitters, but we’re going to be a team which will rely more on speed and defense this year.”
After an 0-3 start that included setbacks to Mater Dei and Red Bud, the Indians are showing improvement. Led by the 5-foot-11 Morio, Mascoutah has wins over Freeburg and Belleville East in the past week and carried a 3-5 record into its showdown with Althoff on Thursday.
While Morio has a team high 79 kills through eight matches, the Indians have displayed their youth on several occasions.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team, but not a lot of experience,” Indians coach Todd Gober said. “We’ve only played a few matches, and I think we’re still trying to find our identity. It’s also been an adjustment for the coaches ...
“We’re much smaller then we’ve been, and we’re going to rely heavily on our defense. We’ve had good defensive teams in the past, but our defense is going to have to be one of our major strengths this season.”
Morio, whose 247 kills led Mascoutah last season, has been the Indians’ main offensive weapon in the early going. With Hailey Cortinas and Kayla Rudolphi adding 27 kills and gaining more confidence and experience as the season goes on, the Indians hope to contend come tournament time.
“I need to become more consistent with my hitting, and hopefully that will come as we go on here,” Morio said. “We have a lot of girls who were part of the program but didn’t get a lot of experience a year ago. We just need to play. The more we play, the better and more consistent we will become.”
The 2017 season is the final one on the volleyball court for Morio, who is committed to play college softball at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., next season. A pitcher, Morio was 8-6 with a 2.00 ERA a year ago.
“I don’t think it’s hit me that this is my last year playing volleyball. I’m sure I won’t realize how much I miss it until next season and I’m not on the court anymore,” Morio said. “Softball, I guess, is my first love. I started when I was being coached by my parents, and I just love the sport.
“Ball State has a very good program, and I just love the coaches and the campus. It’s a NCAA Division I school, but the campus is small, and I’m sure I’ll be happy there.”
Gober, although pleased Morio will fulfill her dream of being a college athlete, will miss the three-year standout.
“Tieghan is a tremendous leader for us, as is Kayla (Rudolphi), who has done a tremendous job as a senior leader on the right side,” Gober said. “Someone asked one of our assistant coaches if this was going to be a rebuilding year for us. Her response was that this is a rebuilding month.
“This is a tremendous group of hardworking girls. They have a great attitude, and I think we’re going to have a successful season.”