STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Playing on the road this weekend, the Bulldogs fell to the Illinois State Redbirds before topping the Indiana State Sycamores the following day.
It looked as though the Bulldogs might’ve been able to pull off an upset on Oct. 2’s match against Illinois State. Drake came from behind to take the first game against defending Missouri Valley Conference champions.
The Redbirds had been off to a rough start in the conference season. They dropped theirfirst two matches againstMissouri State and Wichita State before Drake met them in Normal, Illinois.
Down 16-11, Drake was aided by back-to-back attack errors by Illinois State. Back-to-back aces from junior Michelle Thommi followed, contributing to a lead-shifting 6-0 run in favor of the Bulldogs.
“We came out with a lot energy and we came out with a lot fight in us,” freshman hitter Grace Schofield said.
The Bulldogs were able to power through down the final stretch and take a 1-0 match lead with a 25-22 win.
The Bulldogs didn’t play nearly as well in the second set. They only managed to record seven kills with a hit percentage of negative .029 and only led once on the way to a 25-16 loss.
Drake managed to take an early lead before giving up a 9-3 run that would prove insurmountable. Illinois State took their second game of the match, 25-19.
“As their hitting increased and our defense decreased it kind of got in our heads,” Schofield said. “I don’t think we let down at all or started playing tentative. But I definitely think that we noticed they had a change on their side of the court and we couldn’t do the same on our side.”
Up until the very end of the fourth set it appeared that the Bulldogs may have been able to force a game five. The set featured 14 tie scores and 10 lead changes, more than the previous three games combined.
Drake took an 18-16 lead before Illinois State made a final charge. The Redbirds went on a match-sealing 9-1 run championed by junior Aly Dawson, who recorded five of her 11 kills in the match in game four.
“(In) the first set we were doing a lot of things really well,” head coach Darrin McBroom said. “But Illinois State was able to improve their game enough and we weren’t able to match it. We continued to play a strong match. We just got outplayed.”
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to one game above .500 overall and 2-2 in the MVC before they traveled to Terra Haute for the last match of the road trip.
Through two games it looked as though the Indiana State Sycamores might finish Drake off quickly, dispatching the Bulldogs 16-25, 20-25 in sets one and two. Drake only managed to hold the lead once in game one and allowed a 10-4 run to end game two.
“In both the first and the second set we made a couple errors that weren’t usual for us and so we knew what we had to do to come back in and win it,” Schofield said. “It took us a little while to pick up on those little things and really turn around our offense.”
Indiana State took the lead early in game three, but Drake wouldn’t go down quite so easily.
Down 3-5, Drake went on a 7-0 run to take a commanding lead. The Sycamores scrambled to respond, tying the match back up several times as the match wore on. But Indiana State was unable to finish the job and the Bulldogs coasted to a 25-17 win.
Several small runs gave Indiana State hope that they would be able to escape with a fourth set victory, but the Sycamores were done in by several late game errors to give Drake a 25-21 win in game four.
Then it was set five, both teams only 15 points away from victory.
Strong attacking from the Sycamores got them on the board quickly, scoring six of the game’s first eight points.
Drake responded with a runof their own and took the lead 11-10 – four points away from victory.
The Sycamores were able to tie the match at 11, but two errors from Indiana State and a pair of kills from Drake’s Makena Schoene made the difference.Drake won: 15-12.
“We came out to a slow start. … It didn’t look good for us,” McBroom said. “(It is) a testament to this team that they are willing to stick it out, persevere and keep on working through adversity to find ways to win.”
The Bulldogs improved to 12-10 on the season with a record of 3-2 in the conference with the win.
This is the best positioning Drake has had in the MVC at this point in the season since 2010, something the Bulldogs can be proud of.
“(Our current standing is) a really nice milestone for our program,” McBroom said.
The Bulldogs will return home to host the top two teams in the MVC, Missouri State and Wichita State, at the Knapp Center this Friday and Saturday night. Both matches will begin at 7 p.m.