Drake volleyball team this year is to finish above .500 for the first time since 2010, a feat that no one on the current roster or coaching staff was around for. For the second weekend in a row, the Bulldogs went 2-2 in tournament play, their record holding at one game above .500.
Facing off with Coastal Carolina University on Friday morning, it looked as though it would be a tight match from the get-go, set one finishing 28-26 in favor of CCU. “I feel like we were kind of in a lull there and it seemed like we started to get it together again,” senior Katie Dulek said. The second set wasn’t quite as close, with CCU holding a steady lead and taking the win 25-19.
Drake was simply demolished in the third set. The Bulldogs were only able to score 11 points in the game on account of a hit percentage in the negatives. In eight out of 13 matches thus far in September the Bulldogs have had a lower hit percentage than their opponents, although the greatest discrepancy was against CCU, as the Bulldogs were outhit .327 to .098.
The second match of the weekend promised to be a much closer contest between evenly skilled teams, as the deciding factors in each game were never more than three points.
Drake was able to take the lead partway in set one against the Gardner-Webb University (GWU) Runnin’ Bulldogs, but GWU came back to take a 1-0 lead with a 25-22 win. Drake got out to an early 12-2 lead in the second set, but GWU battled back as the match wore on, tying the match at 23. Splitting the next two points, the game was tied again at 24. Sophomore Kyla Inderski put Drake on top with a kill, followed up by a final kill from junior Katie Allen to tie the match back up at one game apiece.
The next two games would prove to be just as close, featuring a combined total of 16 ties and seven lead changes. Each team recorded 79 digs in the match, Drake led by Grace Schofield’s 22 digs, Inderski’s 19 and Rachel Goettl’s 17. Despite featuring a match-high hit percentage of still only .200 for Drake, set three was still tight throughout.
Drake had what looked to be a safe 23-17 lead, but GWU went on a run to tie the match at 24. GWU’s run ended on an error followed by a kill from junior Makena Schoene to seal the game. Neither team would be ahead by more than two points in the fourth set and the lead would change five times in what would prove to be the tightest game in the tightest match of the weekend for Drake.
GWU threatened to push the match to set five, securing a game-point, 24-22 advantage. Schoene picked up a crucial kill to pull the
game within one. Inderski then served for Drake, leading to three consecutive GWU errors, giving Drake a 26-24 win in the game and their eighth victory of the season.
“In matches where we think we have an edge or we think we’re in good standing (the biggest thing is to) not get over-confident and make sure we understand that every team… is going to challenge us,” head coach Darrin McBroom said. “If we don’t bring it all, mental preparation, physical preparation, the whole thing…we’ll be in trouble.” Drake took on GWU again the next morning, determined to not be quite as tested as they were the day before. That determination helped Drake pull out another close win in the first set 25-23.
Then it was time to stop messing around. Drake won the second set 25-17 and finished off the sweep with a 25-15 win the third and final set, Drake never trailing in that game.
Drake was led by Schofield’s 12 kills in the match. Middle blockers Allen and Dulek also combined for 11 kills and a hit percentage of .556. Drake’s second match of the day was a different story, getting blown out by the 10-3 University of Iowa Hawkeyes, who have now
extended their win streak to eight. Drake never scored more than 16 points in any of the three games and recorded a total hit percentage of .030. Four different Bulldogs had a hit percentage in the negatives, even though Inderski performed well, leading the team with 10 kills with just two errors on 33 attempts.
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 9-8 on the season as the Missouri Valley Conference season is set to begin.
“As we now head into conference play it really gets tougher,” McBroom said. “It’s a very, very tough conference and we’re picked to finish eighth so we’re just going to try and take it one game at a time and see how we can do in each match.”
Drake’s first conference matchup of the season will be at the Knapp Center against Evansville on Friday at 6 p.m., followed by another home match against Southern Illinois at 7 p.m. the next day.
“If we do play our best game we can pull those upsets. There are teams that we are just as good as, or better than, and so we expect from ourselves to beat those teams,” Dulek said. “I think this is the year to do it. This is the most talented team we’ve had in five years.”