STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake would play the minimum of six games in their first two conference matches of the season, sweeping Evansville on Friday evening before being swept by Southern Illinois University the following night, beforing upsetting Loyola on the road.
The Bulldogs were explosive in their first conference match of the season, dominating the Evansville Purple Aces in three sets at home.
Drake took the first point of game one and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire. The Bulldogs all but sealed the deal on a 5-0 run on serves from freshman Grace Schofield to give themselves a 24-14 advantage.
A kill from sophomore Kyla Inderski finished the game two plays later. Drake 25, Evansville 15.
Evansville took their first lead of the match in game two after scoring the first point. After that, it was all Bulldogs. They went on one of their biggest scoring streaks of season, taking 12 consecutive points to put the game out of reach. The Bulldogs would go on to win the set by a score of 25-11.
In set three, it appeared that Evansville may put up a fight with their backs against the wall, taking an 8-7 lead over Drake after four Bulldog errors. But the Bulldogs responded by taking 14 of the next 20 points. Back-to-back kills from senior Katie Dulek closed the match with Drake on top, 25-18.
Southern Illinois put an end to any momentum Drake could have built from that win, however, by controlling the Bulldogs at the Knapp Center.
The Salukis finished the match with a hit percentage of .369, considerably better than Drake’s .085. Drake’s blocking wasn’t much better, which contributed to the Salukis’ success in hitting. SIU had 11 blocks total in the match, nine more than Drake.
The Salukis did commit a fair share of mistakes in the match, committing nine serving errors, but the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage on the gifted points on account of their poor hitting.
“We brought a really good serving and passing game, but I think that on the execution side of our game we fell short,” Schofield said. “That’s what the difference was.”
SIU is one of the strongest teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, predicted to place fourth in the MVC in the preseason poll, and were able to make up for their errors with dominant play practically every other aspect of the game.
“We have to keep our errors down,” Drake head coach Darrin McBroom said. “Going into the second set we had I think (we had) 13 unforced hitting errors. We can’t expect to win and have that many errors. And we just got to be a little bit crisper on defensive play I think.”
The first two games were speckled with communication blunders on the Drake side to go along with a combined hit percentage of just .029. Drake won just one of the four longest volleys in the first set, struggling to handle the SIU attacks for too long.
“I think we did a lot of good things, but I think that there is always room for improvement and I think it really showed in this game,” libero Michelle Thommi said. “We played a really good (first) game and we really put balls away. We played hard defense and that’s important.”
The Bulldogs picked up some energy from the Parent and Family Weekend home crowd, with over 600 fans in attendance. Their support seemed squandered, however, as costly mistakes drained the Bulldogs’ fervor quickly, leading to a 3-11 deficit.
“It’s important for us to keep our chins high and keep cheering after every play, because when that starts to fade then so does our play,” Schofield said. “As long as our minds are still in it then our bodies follow.”
Drake was able to show some signs of life, going on a 5-1 run late in the hopes of clawing back, but it was too little, too late. SIU would go on to win the set 25-16.
Set three looked as though it might have been more of a contest, featuring two ties early on and the Salukis not leading by more than three until the game was more than half over.
A pair of 5-2 runs helped the Salukis break away, putting them up 19-14. SIU would not relinquish that lead, finishing off the Bulldogs in three games with a 25-18 win.
“(In) the second game and third game, we had a lot of errors and I think that that’s definitely fixable,” Thommi said.
The Bulldogs traveled to Chicago to take on Loyola on Monday night, hoping to get above .500 early in the MVC season and perhaps get a win streak going.
The Loyola Ramblers got out to an early lead in game one and kept the Bulldogs down, winning 25-19.
They took an early advantage again in set two, but the Bulldogs weren’t about to fall behind two games to none. Down 6-9, Drake responded with a run of their own, closed with an ace from Inderski, to take the lead, 13-11.
Loyola wasn’t about to be deterred and fought back to tie the match at 22 points apiece.
The match remained close and was pushed into extras. With the game tied at 27, senior Rebecca Brown’s serving led to a pair of Loyola errors and a Drake win.
The match was all square, 1-1.
The Bulldogs took the match lead with a 25-21 victory in set three before simply dominating in set four, winning 25-16 to seal the match.
Drake will continue the conference season on the road this weekend at Illinois State on Friday and against Indiana State the next day.