STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Inconsistent is probably the best word to describe Drake volleyball’s play this season. Some matches against top tier opponents go right down to the wire, while the Bulldogs still struggle to put away lower level teams.
This past week was no different. Their conference record fell to 5-8 and are now 14-16 overall after splitting two matches at the Knapp Center.
In spite of these recent struggles, the Bulldogs still have their best record since 2010 this season.
In one of their best hitting displays of 2015, the Bulldogs downed the Indiana State Sycamores in four sets.
The Bulldogs led from wire-to- wire in the first set. They took 15-8 lead and never let the Sycamores close the gap to less than four from there on out. Drake took the first game of the match 25-17.
The Sycamores looked as though they were going to make the second set more competitive and took the first three points. It wouldn’t be long until Drake took over, however.
Down 6-9, the Bulldogs took 10 of the next 14 points. Eight of those points resulted from kills, one from an ace and only one from a Sycamore error.
One of Drake’s biggest struggles this season has been hitting, so streaks like this prove that the team has the potential to control games on offense. Their hit percentage in the set was just shy of .400.
This helped the Bulldogs coast to a 25-18 victory in set two.
And yet, everything that the Bulldogs did well in the first two sets, they did the opposite in set three. It’s tough to tell what run sealed the deal for the Sycamores, as the Bulldogs had virtually nothing to cheer for throughout the set. Indiana State brought the match to within one set with a 25- 13 set three victory.
Both teams stepped their game up in the fourth set of the match. Indiana State took the lead early, but Drake never let them lead by more than six.
Down 11-17, the Bulldogs began marching back. They tied the match at 21 before taking a 24-23 lead just a few volleys later.
Indiana State’s Cassandra Willis tied the set at 24 with her team-leading 10th kill of the match, but her team would not score again.
Sophomore Kyla Inderski gave Drake a game point with her 11th kill of the match and Willis committed an attack error to give Drake the 26-24 win.
Game, set, match.
“Once the hitters talk to (the setters) about the different sets we’ve been having girls put the balls away,” setter Chantelle Davidson said. “It’s the communication and being able to transform those passes into good kills.”
Drake took to the court again on Halloween night against the Illinois State Redbirds in a match that proved to be full of tricks and devoid of treats for the Bulldogs.
The Redbirds’ first pass of the night was off-target, flying over the net and allowing junior Makena Schoene to put away the first point of the match. The Bulldogs took the next two points to extend their lead to three.
The strong start quickly turned against Drake as Illinois State came back and more with a 7-0 run of their own to take a 7-3 lead of their own.
Drake head coach Darrin McBroom then took a timeout in the hopes of getting the momentum back in his team’s favor. The timeout helped end the Redbirds’ run, but the Bulldogs still struggled to chip away at Illinois State’s lead.
A late 10-3 run for the Redbirds helped seal the set, 25-15.
Illinois State came out swinging in set two and forced Drake to make plays in the back row. The Bulldogs didn’t have too many opportunities to get points off hits in the early game and started out behind 1-7.
Hot hitting carried the Redbirds the rest of the way in set two, hitting .400 in the game on the way to a 25-9 win. Drake was the opposite, hitting an atrocious negative .013 through two sets.
“Bottom line is reduce our errors,” McBroom said. “Tonight, in the first two sets, we buried ourselves with errors.
The third set had a totally different complexion. Coming out of the intermission, Drake hit (.282 hit percentage), served (one ace, one error), passed (zero ball-handling errors) and blocked (four blocks) better than they had all match. And played with a renewed tenacity and intelligence as well.
“We really focused on not hitting to the libero,” Davidson said. “Their libero did a really nice job to her credit and I think one of the big things was putting the ball where she wasn’t.”
Drake took an early 4-3 lead and led all the way to a 25-20 victory.
“As a team, our communication got a lot better,” Schoene said. “Everyone on the front row for blocking really stepped up.”
Schoene led the way for the Bulldogs in the match. She had the most kills for Drake with 17 and a team-high hit percentage of .213.
“(Schoene) really started to light on fire,” Davidson said. “She did a really nice job of just finding the wood.”
The Bulldogs also benefited in that set from novel lineups, featuring players who hadn’t seen a lot of playing time earlier in the season. Sophomore Odessa Cody had a kill and an assist in the match. Sophomore Rachel Goettl also played well in the back row, committing one receive error and picking up an ace. Davidson also had more assists than fellow setter Rebecca Brown, the opposite of what was occurring earlier in the season.
Although the Bulldogs still put up a fight in set four, they were unable to continue the comeback and force a fifth set.
With the score close at 5-7, Illinois State took five points in a row to extend their lead. The run also boosted the Redbirds back to their earlier confidence and dominance on the court.
Drake didn’t let the Redbirds run away with game four, but the Bulldogs were unable to put together any substantive comeback. The Redbirds won the set 25-18.
“We just want to … reduce our errors, getting better at defense and reading the ball,” McBroom said. “Our goal at this point in the season is we want to keep getting better. We don’t want to be satisfied with where we’re at.”
The Bulldogs will play their final road matches of the regular season this weekend at Wichita State and Missouri State.
“We have to have heart. We have to play the way we did against Indiana State. We wanted it more than them,” Davidson said. “We’ve got to believe that we’re the better team.”