STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
After a stellar 5-0 start, including a tournament win at the Hampton Inn Leatherneck Invitational at Western Illinois University, the Bulldogs were humbled this past weekend, losing two games out of three at the Omaha Invitational.
“Last week was a little bit harder for us,” said sophomore Kyla Inderski. “We struggled coming out strong.”
Taking on the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights, a team ranked in the top 35 in the nation, on Friday, the Bulldogs win streak was brought to an abrupt end as they were swept in three games: 25-23, 25-20, 25-23.
Drake didn’t go down without a fight, however, as each game stayed close and the Bulldogs were able to outperform the Knights on several fronts, if only by a small margin.
“That team would’ve just destroyed us a couple years ago and to play them this weekend and to lose two sets by just two points, where it could’ve gone either way,” head coach Darrin McBroom said. “Really proud of our team for those.”
Drake shared the wealth well, as seven different Bulldogs picked up at least three kills, as compared to six for the Knights.
Each team’s leader made the difference, where UCF’s Kia Bright recorded 20 kills as compared to Inderski’s six.
Drake also had 10 blocks on the day, while the Knights only had nine.
Falling to 5-1 on the season, the Bulldogs retook the court the next day to face off with the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Dropping the first two games 25-12, 25-18 put Drake in a hole that it would have to fight out of to prevent a losing streak from forming.
With their backs against the wall, the Bulldogs stayed alive after falling behind 18-10 and forced a win-by-two scenario at the end of game three. Drake responded with an 11-1 run to take the lead. They finished off Omaha in extra points, taking advantage of back-to-back errors to win 30-28.
That momentum carried over to the final two games, as the Bulldogs won game four to survive into the fifth, deciding set.
The final game was neck-and-neck, pushed into a win-by-two situation yet again.
“It was do or die, so we definitely did,” senior Rebecca Brown said. We weren’t going to die.
Drake was able to out-survive Omaha, thanks to junior Makena Schoene who contributed two of the Bulldogs’ final four points.
Schoene led the team with 27 kills, followed by Kyla Inderski with 11.
Brown picked up 40 assists and 13 digs in the win. Inderski also had 15 digs, but Michelle Tommi led the team with 23.
“It was huge,” Inderski said. “It took a lot of our energy, which reflected in the last game that we played… against North Dakota.”
Even if their energy had been sapped, the Bulldogs were still able to keep the match close against the University of North Dakota (UND).
The first two games were each pushed to extra points, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to pull it out in the end and lost each set by a score of 27-25. The third game wasn’t as tight as the first two, as UND sealed their victory with a 25-18.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but I feel like our effort was there,” Brown said. “And it was definitely Drake volleyball.”
The team’s performance gave McBroom confidence that they will be able to complete their goal of finishing with a record over .500 for the first time since 2010. McBroom hopes that Drake will finish in the top 6 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, securing a place for them in the conference tournament.
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 6-2 on the season, and will be looking for revenge against UND as they travel to North Dakota for the UND Classic in their first game out of four this weekend.
“If we can capitalize earlier,” Brown added. I think those wins are ours for sure.”