Ending on a high note

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The volleyball team rode their season-best six-game winning streak into Chicago Friday to take on conference foe DePaul. After three games, the Golden Eagles hitched a ride back to Milwaukee on a new seven-game winning streak as they closed out their regular season with a victory.

In the three games, the Golden Eagles earned victories with final scores of 30-21, 30-13 and 30-24. The Blue Demons, who entered the match-up with an overall record of 11-18 and 3-9 in Conference USA play, made game three of the match-up interesting when they pulled to within four points of the Golden Eagles, but the team pulled away to secure the victory.

Leading the way for the team in kills was the trio of junior Erin Freer, senior Ann Lopata and sophomore Theresa Coughlin. Freer and Lopata had 14 kills apiece, while Coughlin finished with 12. In addition, Freer recorded her thirteenth double-double of the season as she also finished with 12 digs. Leading the team in the dig department was sophomore Caitlin O’Brien who finished with 13 digs, and senior captain Gemma Greer led the team with 39 assists.

According to coach Pati Rolf, the team is playing as well as a unit as they have the entire season.

“I think now our setters better understand our hitters, and a consultant was brought in to work with our middle blockers, which really helped,” Rolf said.

In the match, the Golden Eagles hit at a percentage of .325, while DePaul managed to hit at a clip of .150. The Golden Eagles also enjoyed a 52-34 advantage in the dig department and Greer herself dished out more assists than the entire DePaul team with 39 assists to DePaul’s 24.

With the win, the Golden Eagles finish their regular season with an overall mark of 12-15 and a record of 8-5 in Conference USA. The victory versus DePaul also extended the team’s season-long winning streak to seven games, which is tied for the fourth-longest in the history of the program. The 8-5 C-USA season is also the school’s best conference record since joining the conference nine years ago.

Rolf attributes the team’s success this season to a combination of things.

“The turning point this year was the game against (Wisconsin)-Milwaukee,” Rolf said of the team’s 3-2 loss. “It was at that point that we figured out that we needed to handle each player differently and let them find their own way.”

Along with ending their regular season Friday, the Golden Eagles also signed three players to join the team for the 2004 season last Wednesday. The team inked middle blocker Tiffany Helmbrecht, setter Monica Renfrow, and outside hitter Kimberly Todd.

Helmbrecht, the middle blocker, will join the Golden Eagles from Maquoketa, Iowa, where she was a member of her all-conference team as a senior this year. In addition, Helmbrecht was named to the all-conference academic team. In terms of her numbers from this season, Helmbrecht finished fourth in blocks in her area, and No. 25 in both hitting percentage and kills.

Renfrow comes from Carlock, Ill., to join the team next year. In February, Renfrow tore her ACL when playing in a club volleyball tournament, but she rehabilitated and joined her team this past year at Normal West High School. Some of the accolades that Renfrow earned in high school include being on the first team all-area squad twice, three first team all-conference selections and a two-time team MVP for her high school squad.

Filling out the trio of new faces is Todd who comes to the team from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Todd comes to the Golden Eagles as a member of the Canadian National Junior Team, where she earned a starting spot at middle blocker.

Until the new faces join the team next year, the Golden Eagles have some postseason tournament work to attend to as they begin the C-USA tournament Friday in New Orleans at the Fogelman Arena. Holding the No. 6 seed in the tournament, the Golden Eagles will again go up against the Blue Demons, who hold the No. 11 seed in the tournament.

Rolf feels that DePaul is a team the Golden Eagles match up well with.

“We feel we know them well and match up well with them,” Rolf said. “This is not the case with all conference teams, but we think we know what we need to do to play well and beat them.”

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