Defense proved to be the deciding factor in Drake’s 3-1 triumph over Indiana State last Friday night at the Knapp Center. However, Illinois State swept the Bulldogs the next night.
“We followed the game plan, stuck to it,” Drake head coach Tony Sunga said about the team’s lone victory this weekend. “We made our minor adjustments during the match, made those adjustments without hesitation or flaw, allowing us to move forward.”
It was those adjustments that allowed Drake to ward off the Sycamores’ particularly tough outside hitters.
“They had a couple of good outside hitters, so we had to slow them down,” senior setter Caitlin Johnson said.
Friday’s game marked perhaps one of Johnson’s best as she recorded 47 assists, 16 digs, and five kills.
“I just tried to play hard like I always do,” she said.
The Sycamores earned the serving advantage to start the first set, but it was all Drake from there. The Bulldogs took the early lead when a Sycamore error led to a hit into the net.
Then, the Drake offense took charge. Junior Whitney Westrum, who boasted a team-high 16 kills, scored the Bulldogs’ first points on offense to put Drake up 2-1. The teams traded points until the Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to lead the Sycamores, 19-11. Drake rode the momentum to a 25-14 win in the opening set.
Drake senior Michelle Reidy sent the Indiana State defense diving to tie the second set at 10-10 with a kill. The teams traded points until the final moments when the Bulldogs pushed forward to earn a narrow 25-21 win.
Lengthy volleys and accurate shots pushed the Sycamores past the Bulldogs in a 25-23 win in the third set. Closing the deficit to just one point on several occasions, the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome Indiana State’s sudden surge of tricky blocks and the game went to a fourth set.
Capturing an early lead in the fourth set, the Bulldogs used a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 6-1, and they never looked back. Drake held a substantial lead throughout the remainder of the game, toppling Indiana State 25-20.
Completing Drake’s weekend of MVC play, the Bulldogs faced a notoriously athletic Redbirds team last Saturday night at the Knapp Center, falling 3-0.
“The difference between last night’s match and tonight’s match is that the teams are very different,” Westrum said.
Westrum recorded 13 digs in the contest. Drake juniors Jadranka Tramosljanin and Sarah Madden combined for 22 digs against the Redbirds.
“Some games, you don’t win all the points,” Westrum said. “Volleyball is a game of errors, and we need to reduce our errors.”
The Redbirds’ speed and agility were apparent early, and the Bulldogs struggled to keep up, falling behind within the first few points. Illinois State made offensive statement after offensive statement, sending Drake diving from difficult angles.
The Redbirds went on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 18-11 in the first set, forcing the Bulldogs to scramble on both defense and offense. Despite numerous competitive points, Drake failed to counter the Redbirds’ offensive efforts and Illinois State earned a 25-21 win in the first set.
Particularly advantageous for the Redbirds was their height.
“They’re definitely a bigger blocking team,” Westrum said. “They had some pretty tall girls.”
Lead changes were abundant throughout the second set and the Bulldogs adjusted their game plan, capitalizing on more offensive opportunities. Westrum recorded two consecutive kills to put the Bulldogs up 11-9.
Then, Illinois State unleashed another kill, sending the Bulldogs lunging for the ball. The teams went back and forth until the game reached a 23-23 tie. The Redbirds scored quickly on the next two points, the first of which came on a serve that hit the top of the net and dropped just over it. The set ended 25-23 in the Redbirds’ favor.
The Bulldogs’ only lead in the third set was thwarted by three straight points from Illinois State, and the Redbirds closed the match with a 25-19 win.
Drake is now 6-12 on the season and 2-3 in the MVC.
The Bulldogs take on Wichita State in Wichita, Kan., on Friday followed by a contest at Missouri State on Saturday.
Next up for the Bulldogs
FRIDAY, OCT. 7
@ Wichita State, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, OCT. 8
@ Missouri State, 7 p.m.