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Creighton ousts Drake in MVC tournament opener

Drake’s season ended on Thanksgiving with a four-set loss to Creighton in the first round of the State Farm MVC Champi¬onship in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Creighton won its next round against Wichita State the next day, before falling to top-seed Northern Iowa in the final on Nov. 27.

After falling 25-11 in the opening set, the Bulldogs responded with a solid 25- 21 victory. The Bluejays’ talent was on display in the final two sets, as Creighton held off Drake 25-18 in both games.

“We came out in the second set and we were much more focused,” Head Coach Phil McDaniel said in a Drake athletics press release. “We paid attention to our defensive assignments better and were much more aggressive.”

Junior setter Caitlin Johnson recorded the only Bulldog double-double, with 19 assists and 11 digs. Sophomore Whitney Westrum added nine kills and 15 digs and was named to the MVC All-Tournament team for her efforts.

Senior libero Alana Wittenburg had 19 digs, adding to her single-season confer¬ence record to finish with 764 on the year. That total ranks second in the nation since the NCAA went to a 25-point scoring sys¬tem and unlimited libero substitutions in 2008. She leaves Drake as the career-leader in digs, with 2,423. She is one of 15 NCAA Division-I volleyball players in history to collect over 2,400 digs.

The Bulldogs closed the year at 23-11, with an 8-10 record in league play. Drake finished tied for fifth in the Valley standings and earned the sixth seed in the conference tournament.

Drake’s season ends as a program still on the rise. It was the team’s second-straight MVC tournament appearance. The Bulldogs opened up the season scorching hot, winning their first 14 games, including a season-defining, five-set victory against Iowa before starting league play.

Drake struggled at the start of the Valley season, losing five of its first eight matches. The Bulldogs’ best conference win came on Oct. 16, when they defeated the same Creighton team that ended their season in four sets.

“We certainly had a good run,” Mc-Daniel said. “The beginning of the year was fantastic, but conference is tough, it sort of beat us up a little bit. I’m very proud of all our players – freshmen to seniors. They all worked hard to get us where we’re at…as long as we’re taking steps forward and not backwards, that’s all I can ask for right now.”

Drake will lose six seniors to graduation: Wittenburg, Angela Bys, Alisa DeBerg Roth, Emily Sibigtroth, Nicole Brown and Susan Clausen.

Bys finishes as Drake’s career leader in kills (1,626) and kill attempts (4,688). Those totals rank 12th and fifth, respec¬tively, in MVC history. Bys had a season-low five kills in the Bulldogs’ loss to Creighton.
DeBerg Roth finished her career 10th in school history for block assists with 276.

The Valley’s top three teams, Northern Iowa, Wichita State and Creighton, advanced to the NCAA tournament. Each team was eliminated in the first round. Northern Iowa, which was ranked No. 10 in the country heading into the tournament, was the most surprising early exit.

Photo: File Photo


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