Photo: Taylor Soule
It might be a loss in the record books, but the Drake volleyball team knows last Friday’s 3-1 loss to Missouri State marked an important step entering the final weeks of the 2011-12 season. The Bulldogs faced another Missouri Valley Conference opponent last Saturday night as the Wichita State Shockers swept Drake in three sets.
Missouri State edged the Bulldogs on critical points in the contest at the Knapp Center, notching the final advantage in the nerve-wracking second set to take the match in four.
The first set started with an early Bulldog deficit as the Bears raced to an 8-4 lead. The Bulldogs capitalized on several key Bears’ mistakes to even the set at 9-9. That tie was far from the game’s last, though, as the teams traded points until 13-13 when two consecutive points by senior middle blocker Michelle Reidy gave Drake its first lead.
Missouri State quickly avenged the Bulldogs’ comeback effort, and the set ended in a 25-20 Bears victory.
The second set mirrored the first, a similar spectacle of lead changes and ties, and ended in another narrow win by the Bears, 29-27.
Missouri State scored three straight points to start the set when the Bulldogs hit their stride, evening the score at 5-5 to mark the first of nine ties. An attack error by the Bears gave Drake a 25-24 lead. Missouri State again proved tireless, though, forcing two consecutive Bulldog errors to take the second set.
The third set final read 26-24, but this time in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Bulldogs battled to a 21-18 lead when senior setter Caitlin Johnson and junior outside hitter Whitney Westrum combined for three kills. At 25-24, the Bulldogs faced another set point, and they wasted no time as junior outside hitter Bentley Mancini pounded a kill into Missouri State territory to win the set.
Drake started slowly in the fourth set and never regained control, dropping the final set 25-19.
“(Last Friday’s) loss doesn’t represent how hard we worked or how well we played,” Reidy said. “Although it was a loss in the book, we know it was the next step moving forward as a team.”
Despite dropping to 9-19 overall and 5-9 in the MVC on Friday night, Drake knows the MVC is anyone’s conference to claim.
“It’s a tough conference from top team to the 10th team,” Reidy said. “Anyone can come out and win.”
Using crafty tipping, the notoriously athletic Shockers dealt Drake another loss the next night at the Knapp Center. Falling in three sets, the Bulldogs “just never got caught up,” according to Drake head coach Tony Sunga.
The teams traded control in the first set until the Shockers powered a 4-0 run to notch a 10-8 lead.The Bulldogs didn’t regain momentum, dropping the first set 25-19.
The second and third sets proved lopsided as the Bulldogs fell by double digits in both.
Despite three consecutive kills by redshirt sophomore middle blocker and outside hitter Stacie Hansen, the Bulldogs’ nine kills couldn’t compete with the Shockers’ 18, as they fell 25-12.
Wichita State took the third set in similar fashion as the Bulldogs sent a hit wide on match point in the 25-13 loss.
“They were running their offense fast,” Sunga said. “Our service wasn’t as aggressive as it usually is.”
With the State Farm MVC Championship less than three weeks away, Drake is hoping to earn another win in to earn a spot in the tournament.
“We’re hoping to make it first,” Sunga said. “We need to work hard against these last few teams. We just need to work hard and solidify ourselves in the top six. We need to take chances when we’ve got them.”
Reidy said the time has come for final changes before the end of the season.
“What we’re going to improve are just little tweaks here and there and keep our intensity level,” she said.
Drake takes on Bradley this Friday at 7 p.m. in Peoria, Ill. The Bulldogs travel to Cedar Falls, Iowa, the next night to take on Northern Iowa at 7 p.m.