The die-hard Drake volleyball fan’s to-do list before Friday’s match against Northern Iowa: Dispose of all purple and yellow attire, locate the nearest sound-proof room for optimum cheering rehearsal and pitch a tent outside the Knapp Center to be the first in the stands.
Drake is looking for an enthusiastic hometown crowd to lift the Bulldogs past nationally ranked UNI tomorrow night at the Knapp Center.
Currently ranked No. 12 in the NCAA, the Panthers are notorious for quick starts and powerful scoring runs aided by relentless kills and accurate setting. One setter in particular, according to junior outside hitter Bentley Mancini, will prove particularly difficult.
“UNI is a strong team, and they have an extremely aggressive setter, Bre Payton,” Mancini said. “We haven’t seen that yet this season, so I’m assuming we will be focusing on how we are going to defend that that in practice.”
The Panthers also have a number of powerful middle hitters, and the Drake defense hopes to step up and suppress UNI’s efforts on offense.
“I think it will be hard to defend their middle hitters,” senior setter Caitlin Johnson said. “They’re just really good all around so we have to try to match them.”
With multiple Panthers’ players tallying 10 or more kills in a single match alongside Payton’s setting prowess, the Bulldogs are already channeling a tireless, confident mentality in practice.
“We’ll pretty much focus on blocking, getting every ball off the floor, putting our hearts into every ball,” senior Michelle Reidy said. “One of the aspects we’re going to control is our defense.”
Following last Saturday’s tough loss against Missouri State, Drake head coach Tony Sunga was ready for his team to hit the court the following day, gearing up for a week of hard work and preparation, both technically and mentally. Intensity and consistency will be the Bulldogs’ focus in practice leading up to tomorrow’s battle, as the two teams contend for bragging rights among Iowa’s Big Four.
With UNI boasting a 7-0 record in the Missouri Valley Conference and a 17-1 record overall, the Bulldogs look to snap both their losing streak and the Panthers’ winning streak, a feat Sunga and the Bulldogs feel they are ready for.
“We decided last Sunday at practice that we were all going to come together and make a change,” Mancini said. “We had a tough weekend, but we are ready to bounce back and show everyone what we are capable of. UNI is the top team in our conference, and they are also one of our biggest rivals. We always get extra pumped when we are matched up against them, so our fans can expect a really good match.”
Johnson said a good performance will give the team more motivation to finish the season strongly.
“If we play well against them that gives us a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “It will be a fun atmosphere to play in.”
Playing the top team in the MVC at home poses a unique opportunity, one that the Bulldogs plan to enter with both confidence and caution.
“Game-wise, it will be a mental challenge getting over the fact that they are the No. 1 team in the conference right now,” Reidy said. “We’ll need a lot of energy and intensity coming from the game and from our environment. Being the underdog, we feed off of the energy that our fans give us.”
Sunga said he hopes Drake’s positive attitude and unwavering focus make for packed stands and an entertaining game tomorrow night.
“It’s about us doing what we do best: being consistent, keeping our intensity, not allowing ourselves to relax,” Sunga said. “If we do that, we’ll be in it. We hope that fans come and support, and we think it will be an exciting match.”