The Drake Bulldogs earned a spot in the State Farm MVC Championship after going 1-1 this weekend, posting a five-set win against Southern Illinois last Friday before losing to Evansville on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs started off the weekend with a thrilling victory over the Southern Illinois Salukis. The Drake squad started off slowly, losing the first set, 25-21. The rest of the match was back and forth between the two teams, with Drake winning the second, third and fifth sets. The final score was 21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 23-25, 15-12.
Trailing late in the fifth set, the Bulldogs were able to raise their level of play and go on a 6-1 run. Senior Alisa DeBerg Roth closed out the match with two strong kills. Drake was led in kills by senior Angela Bys and sophomore Whitney Westrum, with 15 and 13, respectively.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs battled on senior night with the Evansville Purple Aces for a chance to become the fifth seed in the conference tournament this week.
Similar to Friday night’s matchup, the Drake squad came out of the gate slowly. Evansville took advantage of the Bulldogs’ slow start to convert a series of close kills to pull out to a 10-6 lead. After a timeout by Head Coach Phil McDaniel, the Bulldogs regrouped and refocused, and jumped out to an 18-17 lead. Despite a series of impressive digs by senior Alana Wittenburg, the Aces took the first set, 25-21.
Unfortunately for Drake, the second set didn’t fare much better, as the Evansville squad sent its kills to the back row where the Bulldogs couldn’t control the ball. After losing the second set 25-18, the Bulldogs were able to come together and rush out to a 4-0 lead in set three. Drake’s front line got more creative with its kills, adding more touch and spin to their shots, helping take the third set, 25-19.
The beginning of the fourth set was dominated by the Bulldogs, with Bys dominating the Aces. The pivotal point in the final set was when a Drake player went after an Evansville shot that was going out-of-bounds, which tied the game at 21. The Bulldogs seemed rattled after that and managed to win only one more point before dropping the fourth set, 25-22.
“Our energy wasn’t where it needed to be in those first two sets, but got better in set three and the beginning of set four,” McDaniel said in a Drake athletics press release.
Wittenburg posted 38 digs in the final match, and combined with the 22 digs against Southern Illinois, her season total rose to 745. Wittenburg is the first Missouri Valley Conference player to crack the 700-dig barrier, and her mark is the fifth-highest single season total in the country since the NCAA went to 25-point scoring and unlimited libero substitutions.
“Alana [Wittenburg] has worked very hard to get where she is,” McDaniel said. “She’s the cog in our wheel.”
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs will take on the third-seeded Creighton Bluejays when the conference tournament begins this Thursday at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The Bulldogs will be looking to the leadership of seniors Wittenburg and Bys to help them prevail this week.
“We have the tournament to look forward to,” McDaniel added in the press release. “This was not the way we wanted to finish the home stand for these six seniors. They’ve given so much to the program. We’ve got a couple days of practice to try to take the next step.”
>> A video recap of volleyball action from the weekend can be seen here.
2010 State Farm MVC Championship
Cedar Falls, Iowa
No. 6 DRAKE vs. No. 3 Creighton, Thursday, 6 p.m.
No. 5 Illinois State vs. No. 4 Missouri State, Thursday, 8 p.m.
Winner Quarterfinal #1 vs. No. 2 Wichita State, Friday, 5 p.m.
Winner Quarterfinal #2 vs. No. 1 Northern Iowa, Friday, 7 p.m.
Winner Semifinal #1 vs. Winner Semifinal #2, Saturday, 3:37 p.m.
Photo: Ian Weller