The Drake volleyball team faced a familiar foe last Friday night in Normal, Ill., hoping to avenge Illinois State’s straight-set win at the Knapp Center earlier this season.
Drake didn’t find its rhythm as the Redbirds captured a 3-0 home victory. The Bulldogs took on another Missouri Valley Conference rival last Saturday night, falling to Indiana State in four sets.
The Illinois State offense dominated by recording 38 kills in the 3-0 sweep, dropping Drake to 9-17 overall and 5-7 in the MVC.
The Bulldogs looked promising to start the first set as they played to an early lead on a kill by senior setter Caitlin Johnson, who recorded four kills in the match. That advantage, however, dissipated as several Bulldog miss-hits led to four straight points for the Redbirds.
Then, Illinois State’s LeighAnn Hranka took charge, recording five of her 10 kills in the first set alone. The Redbirds powered a kill past the Drake defense on match point, leaving the Bulldogs lunging for the volleyball and searching for answers in the 25-14 defeat.
Drake threatened the Illinois State defense in the second set by forcing eight Redbird errors. At 20-19, the Bulldogs had an opportunity to even the score again. Illinois State had other plans, though, and the Redbirds went on a 5-1 run to secure the second set, 25-20.
“By that third set, things were kind of in rhythm,” Drake head coach Tony Sunga said.
That rhythm wasn’t enough to push the Bulldogs past the Redbirds, though, and the final set ended in a 25-23 Drake loss.
With the score 7-6, Drake junior outsider hitter Jadranka Tramosljanin pounded a kill into Redbird territory, evening the score at 7-7. The teams traded points until 23-23. The next points resulted in two consecutive Bulldog blocking errors.
“Going to somebody’s home court is going to be tough,” Sunga said. “They stayed consistent. Really, we just didn’t have an answer.”
On a high note in the defeat, junior outside hitter Whitney Westrum recorded her third consecutive 12-kill effort, improving her season total to a team-high 281 kills.
“She was just carrying us offensively,” Sunga said. “She was playing very confident. We just needed a bit more from all around.”
Last Saturday night marked another MVC duel for the Bulldogs as they took on Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind. Despite recording 45 kills, the Bulldogs were unable to ward off the Sycamores, who boasted 59 of their own.
With 11 ties in the first set alone, Drake battled back from an early deficit to even the score at 23, but the Sycamores stepped in with a kill. The Bulldogs tied the game and extended the set to 27-27 when the Sycamores’ Stacy Qualizza unleashed two consecutive kills to give Indiana State a 29-27 victory.
The Bulldogs came out swinging in the second, pounding 13 kills to take the set, 25-20.
Indiana State rebounded and recorded 15 kills in the third set compared to just five from the Bulldogs, completing a lopsided 25-13 win.
The Bulldogs started slow in the fourth set as the Sycamores pounded five kills en route to an early 7-0 lead. Then junior middle blocker Emily Heffernen sparked a 5-0 run with a kill as Drake closed within two.
That was the closest the Bulldogs reached as the Sycamores took control yet again, forcing five Bulldog errors in the span of seven points. The set ended on an Indiana State ace, completing a 25-17 win and a 3-1 match-victory for the Sycamores.
“It’s just a matter of momentum,” Sunga said. “We pushed, and they pushed back.”
Transitioning from defense to offense will be Drake’s focus in practice this week, Sunga added.
“We were right there,” Sunga said. “We’re gaining some confidence in our passing. We just have to be more consistent in being aggressive servers.”
Despite a tough weekend of MVC play, the Bulldogs are already looking forward to their next match this Friday against Missouri State at 7 p.m. in the Knapp Center.