The Drake volleyball team could be forced to spend the Thanksgiving holiday break in Cedar Falls, Iowa, this year. The team hopes to last the entire weekend by bringing home the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title, but it has to earn its spot first.
The Bulldogs control their own destiny to the postseason when they host Southern Illinois and Evansville this weekend. The mission is simple: win both matches and they earn the fifth seed in the State Farm MVC Championship out of the conference’s top six squads.
“The importance of the games is a double-edged sword,” Head Coach Phil McDaniel said. “We want to talk about it, but not get over-hyped and nervous.”
Drake would still reach postseason play by only winning one match over the weekend, but this could drop them into a fifth-place tie with Illinois State. Illinois State would be awarded the fifth seed after defeating Drake in both matches this season.
If the Bulldogs drop both matches, there could be a number of scenarios with them either backing their way into the tournament as the No. 6 seed or falling short of postseason play.
If Drake loses both matches and Evansville beats Creighton in Omaha, Neb., the Bulldogs would be eliminated from postseason play because Evansville will have defeated the Bulldogs in both matches this season and earn the final spot. The Purple Aces face Creighton on Friday night. The game on Saturday in the Knapp Center could be a possible do-or-die match for both teams.
“Evansville is very similar to us,” McDaniel said. “They like to move the ball around to all of their attackers.”
If everything goes as expected, which rarely happens in college athletics, Northern Iowa will get the No. 1 seed followed by Wichita State, Creighton, Missouri State, Drake and then Illinois State.
The Bulldogs swept Southern Illinois on the road earlier this season and dropped a heartbreaker at Evansville in five sets.
Stopping senior Jennifer Berwanger of Southern Illinois will be a key element to a potential Bulldog victory on Friday evening. Berwanger leads the Salukis with 332 kills on the season. Berwanger hit .303 against the Bulldogs in their previous matchup, but the Bulldogs held the rest of the team to .098.
Action gets underway against Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. on Friday in the Knapp Center.
Junior Ellen Sawin is a key to the Purple Aces’ success with an impressive 929 assists on the season. In the Bulldogs’ previous match with the Aces, Drake outhit Evansville .221 to .203 in the defeat.
“We’re looking to control the energy, that was the difference last time,” McDaniel said. “We’re also looking to control the net.”
The Bulldogs will celebrate senior night on Saturday. They will graduate six seniors this season: Nicole Brown, Alana Wittenburg, Emily Sibigtroth, Susan Clausen, Alisa DeBerg Roth and Angela Bys. The match against Evansville will get under way at 7 p.m.
“We would like [the fans] to get up and say good-bye, and give these girls a proper send-off,” McDaniel said.
Photo: Connor McCourtney