Photo by Taylor Soule
Last Friday, Drake’s match against Evansville demanded dominant serves and powerful aces from the Bulldogs. Junior libero Sarah Madden answered the call by pounding four aces to lift the Bulldogs from a first-set deficit in the 3-1 win over the Purple Aces. The next night, Drake survived Southern Illinois in five sets.
Behind by as many as five points in the first set against Evansville, the Bulldogs adopted a come-from-behind mentality in the game’s inaugural minutes. Madden started a domino-style turnaround in the first set, hitting the open spots in Purple Aces territory to pull the Bulldogs within one at 24-23. Freshman Erin Roggenburg stepped in next, recording a kill to tie the set at 24. Roggenburg recorded eight kills in the match.
“That (comeback) was set up by 10 awesome serves by Sarah Madden,” Drake head coach Tony Sunga said. “She served out the set. She was going for ace. She kept going after it.”
Madden also added 26 digs in the match.
Both the fans and the team let out a mighty yell as the Bulldogs closed out the first set when the Purple Aces blocked a Drake shot out of bounds. The scoreboard read 26-24 in the Bulldogs favor.
“We just gained some momentum and ran with it,” said junior outside hitter Bentley Mancini, who recorded a team-high 12 kills. “We do a lot of drills in practice where we start with a deficit like that so we have to work back to win the game.”
In the second set, the Bulldog defense took charge in the 25-17 Drake win. Aided by critical kills from Mancini and senior middle hitter Michelle Reidy, the Bulldogs sent the Evansville defense lunging for the ball. The set ended on a block by junior Emily Heffernen.
That defensive dominance, according to Sunga, played a match-altering role in the Missouri Valley Conference contest.
“Our defense picked us up,” Sunga said. “Converting from defense to offense, but converting fast, is what we did.”
The Bulldogs fell to Evansville in the third set, with mental lapses hindering their hopes for a shutout victory. The set score was identical to the second, but this time in Evansville’s favor as the Purple Aces took advantage of several Drake errors to earn a 25-17 victory.
“We just had a brief mental lapse,” Sunga said. “We were trying to be more than we needed to be. We let ourselves out of that focus for a moment.”
Putting the third set loss behind them, the Bulldogs again relied on solid serving and consistent defense to win the fourth set 25-18.
“We kind of settled down, huddled together at the end of the third set, decided we needed to regroup, to go back to the basics,” Mancini said. “This was a really big game for us, and we knew we needed to come out and take the fourth set.”
On Saturday night, the Bulldogs faced a familiar foe in Southern Illinois. Drake avenged a loss to the Salukis earlier this season. The game also marked the Bulldogs’ “Dig Pink” match, and the players sported pink uniforms instead of blue in support of breast cancer research.
After dropping down 5-0, Heffernen led the offensive charge as Drake rallied to claim the first set 25-19. Heffernen recorded eight kills in the match.
A block by junior Whitney Westrum sent Southern Illinois to the sidelines for a timeout at 23-17. The Bulldogs closed out the set 25-21.
The Salukis were ready to go following halftime, recording 18 kills in the third set to cap a 25-21 victory.
Southern Illinois wasn’t ready to back down just yet, though. Following their victory, the Salukis went on to win the fourth set 25-20 as the Bulldogs tallied nine errors.
Entering the decisive fifth set, fans were on the edge of their seats, eager for early Bulldog dominance. Drake did just that, scoring 10 points on kills en route to a 15-10 win.
Defense proved the difference in Saturday’s five-set victory, according to Sunga, who was counting on players like Reidy and Heffernen to record critical blocks.
“We know we’re going to put up pretty solid blocks,” Sunga said. “It’s a thankless job, middle blocker. It’s always our defense for us. Defense sets up our offense.”
The fans also provided motivation in the Bulldogs’ MVC win, for both the players and the coaches.
“(The crowd) was energetic and very influential in our success tonight,” Reidy said. “It was nice to have family and other peers, other athletes there to cheer for us.”
The Bulldogs take on Illinois State this Friday in Normal, Ill., at 7 p.m.