Photo: Taylor Soule
The Drake volleyball team set its sights on a road win over Bradley in Peoria, Ill., last Friday night, hopeful that a victory would secure a coveted spot in the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Championship.
Bradley had other plans, however, as the Braves swept Drake 3-0. Last Saturday night, the Bulldogs traveled to Cedar Falls to take on No. 12 Northern Iowa, again falling 3-0. Drake is now 9-22 overall and 5-12 in the MVC.
The Braves sprinted to a 6-2 first-set lead as tough angles sent the Bulldogs scrambling in the match’s initial minutes. A kill by redshirt sophomore middle blocker and outside hitter Stacie Hansen narrowed the Bradley lead to one at 8-7. The Braves committed a handling error to even the set at 8-8, and the sudden shift in momentum forced a Bradley timeout.
Much to the Bulldogs’ dismay, that timeout was just what the Braves needed to steamroll through the remainder of the first set. A kill by Courtney Keefe rounded out a 25-16 victory.
Bradley never looked back, recording a 25-17 win in the second set.
Tallying 14 kills in the third set alone, the Braves ended the match on another Keefe kill to complete a 25-13 final set victory in the sweep.
Limited to just 25 total kills compared to the Braves’ 42, the loss left Drake on the MVC tournament qualifying bubble. Junior outside hitter Bentley Mancini led the team with five kills.
The Bulldogs expected No. 12 Northern Iowa to pose a threat last Saturday night at the McLeod Center, and the Panthers did just that, dispatching Drake in the 3-0 sweep.
The first set proved a lopsided affair as Drake struggled offensively. The Panthers befuddled the Bulldogs in the 25-9 set victory.
Entering the second set, the Bulldogs refocused offensively. Unfortunately, UNI controlled critical points to complete a narrow win. At 23-12, the Bulldogs rallied to win five-straight points, closing the Panther advantage to 23-17.
Then, UNI’s Michelle Burow stepped in with a kill to give the Panthers set point. After warding off three set points, the Bulldogs committed an attacking error, handing the second set to UNI, 25-20.
Eight errors dashed the Bulldogs’ hopes for a win in the third set as the Panthers completed the sweep with a 25-12 victory.
“They were getting the job done,” Drake head coach Tony Sunga said. “We weren’t pushing back as hard as we could have. Our passing kind of left us.”
Despite a difficult weekend of MVC play, the Bulldogs still have hope for an MVC tournament berth.
“We’re still in the hunt,” Sunga said. “To be considered, we need to win next weekend.”
Following the losses, the Bulldogs know a win over Creighton this Saturday night at the Knapp Center is necessary for an MVC tournament bid.
The match also marks a pivotal moment as the Bulldogs step on Ron Pearson Court for the final time this season, and it is the last home contest for four seniors. Bidding a Des Moines farewell to seniors Caitlin Johnson, Mikayla Sims, Erika Price and Michelle Reidy, Sunga expects his team to play with a winning work ethic.
“It will be an emotional night,” he said. “They (the seniors) will work hard to make sure it’s not their last (match).”
Entering its final week of regular-season practice, Sunga said Drake will look to improve passing and digging.
Game time for Saturday’s contest is at 7 p.m.