ONLINE EXCLUSIVE STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake (7-6) suffered a tough loss Tuesday night in their home opener against the Western Illinois Leathernecks (2-11), even though the Bulldogs had swept them on August 29.
The Bulldogs were able to win the fourth set to stay alive, but were unable to come away with the victory despite outscoring their opponents 105-93 across all five sets.
“We just weren’t consistent,” head coach Darrin McBroom said. “We had moments where we showed some really great volleyball and then we’d let up and go to sleep and not execute. We weren’t coming out strong and staying strong and being consistent.”
Both teams came out of the gate strong, game one featuring several long volleys and a plethora of digs. Neither team led by more than four in the set.
Still, the Leathernecks were able to get out in the lead early, up 10-6 and would not surrender that lead. Two questionable net touch calls hurt the Bulldogs chances and the Leathernecks went on to win the set 25-23, the final point coming off of a strong block by senior Jordan Jackson and freshman Abby Skryd.
Set two was another story entirely. Drake went on a 12-4 run to build a comfortable lead at 13-7. Senior Shelby Daum’s four kills on a .571 hit percentage and junior Makena Schoene’s four kills on eight attempts in the set helped to extend the lead. Schoene delivered the final point of the game to give Drake the 25-15 win.
The Bulldogs were unable to repeat the domination from the game before in set three, falling behind 4-9 early and losing 19-25.
“(We need) a little bit more urgency on every point,” McBroom said.
Freshman Grace Schofield struggled in game three, committing two attacking errors and only recorded one kill on 13 attempts.
“We’ve got some young hitters on the outside and they’re learning and they’re succeeding,” Schoene said. “But we all have little things we need to do better to close out those close ones.”
With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs rallied in set four by blowing out the Leathernecks 25-12.
Both teams came out determined to take the fifth and final set.
It started out close, the game tied at five before Western Illinois took over, going on a 7-2 run to build a healthy five point lead.
Drake picked up some momentum on a hard spike from sophomore Kyla Inderski, who had 13 kills in the match and just four attacking errors, to end the run.
The Bulldogs clawed back to within one, the score sitting at 12-13 and each team knowing that victory was just a few points away. The home crowd started an echoing “Let’s go Drake!” chant, hoping to spur the Bulldogs to victory, but were silenced by a kill from Western Illinois’s middle hitter Lexi Kolschefski.
It was 12-14, match point for the Leathernecks.
A service error from Peyton Crosser brought the match back to within one, but Leatherneck Shiah Sanders’s eighth kill of the match sealed the victory for Western Illinois.
“It’s a tough loss. We put a lot out there,” Schoene said. “We really wanted this win and it seems like they wanted it a little bit more.”
Senior middle hitter Jordan Jackson led the Leathernecks in game five, recording three key kills, no errors and a dig. She finished the match with seven kills on 21 attempts to go along with four block assists.
The Bulldogs outplayed their opponents on the stat sheet — Drake led or was tied in every major stat — but the Leathernecks took crucial points when it mattered most.
“We’ve got to change some things,” Daum said. “We got to come together and learn how to fix those mistakes and get going from the get-start and not from point 10, but from point one.”
Still, the Bulldogs were not too disheartened, and looked ahead instead fixating on the past.
“We’re ready to come back and work out the kinks,” Schoene said.
The Leathernecks have now won back-to-back matches, their only two wins on the season, while the Bulldogs have lost five of their last six matches.
Next, the Bulldogs will travel to Iowa City for the Hawkeye Challenge, their last four matches before the conference season begins.
“In practice we need to work even harder to mentally prepare for this weekend and for the future games,” Daum said. “Taking one practice, one point, one game, one match, one set, whether that be tomorrow or next week. We’ve got to take each day at a time and … fight with as much heart and passion as we can.”