The Bulldog volleyball team played to an even 2-2 record in the Missouri Valley Conference at the end of the weekend, dispatching Bradley on Friday and dropping Saturday’s game to rival Northern Iowa. The team now has an impressive 16-2 mark early in the conference season.
The Bulldogs dropped one set against Bradley, but defeated the Braves quite easily on Friday night. Winning the first two sets, then slipping in the third, Drake ended the night strong in the fourth. Highlights of the night included senior Susan Clausen notching 20 assists and a career-high 11 digs, and sophomore Emily Heffernen with 12 kills.
After the first match in the home stand, Drake put up a great showing and looked toward nationally ranked No. 16 UNI on Saturday as its next big test. The Panthers boasted a strong middle defense that caused more trouble for the Bulldogs than the Braves did.
A record 1,800 fans came out to cheer on the Bulldogs against their vaunted rivals in the Knapp Center. Before Saturday, Drake was 10-0 at home. But the streak, just as its early-season winning streak, was no longer meant to be.
The Bulldogs were beaten in a tough battle in four sets, in which each set was decided by less than four points. The fourth set included five separate ties before UNI seized the match. The battle went all the way to the end, lamented Head Coach Phil McDaniel, but he is optimistic for the rest of the season.
“We fought really hard tonight, as hard as we’ve fought all season long,” he said. “If we can continue that the rest of the conference season, then that will definitely be awesome.”
Clausen talked a bit about the differences between the two home games this weekend.
“I thought we played very clean against Bradley,” she said. “But against UNI, they dug up a lot of balls that we put down and in the end, ended up beating us.”
UNI has proved to be one of the bigger challenges on the Missouri Valley Conference schedule. The Panthers are now 4-0 in conference play. The Bulldogs played them in a great match and feel they can continue to improve.
“We feel that if we continue to play as hard and as solid as we did tonight, then the wins will come for us in conference if we keep up the intensity and drive,” McDaniel said.
Those wins in the conference will come at a high price as next weekend they head to Terre Haute, Ind., and Normal, Ill., to face familiar opponents, Indiana State and Illinois State. The road wins are crucial in any conference schedule, and there is a sense of urgency among the team, feels Clausen.
“It would be very nice to go 2-0 against those teams,” she said. “It is very important to win on the road. To take away wins from teams on their home court is always good.”
Constantly improving throughout the rest of the conference season is only a plus. These next coming months will be testing for the experienced Bulldog squad. As long as McDaniel instills in his team that they have the will to win, then he feels it will happen.
“Every game is going to be well contested,” he said. “We need to go in with the goal to be competitive every night. And, lastly, we want to set the tone early, especially in the Valley so we can carry it through the rest of the year.”
Photo: Emily Tozer