Drake Volleyball returned from its shared tournament win in Florida over the weekend for the Knapp Center’s home opener on Aug. 30. The Bulldogs hosted the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Jackrabbits, a team tabbed to finish in the middle of the Summit League in the preseason coaches poll. Drake, conversely, was picked to finish eighth out of 10 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
After a poor performance in the first set and nearly mounting a comeback in the fourth, Drake Volleyball improved to 4-1 on the season with a 20‑25, 25‑14, 25‑14, 23‑25, 15-4 victory.
The first game started close, neither side leading by more than three throughout the first 20 serves. Drake wasn’t able to take the lead at any point but tied the score twice in that span.
Up 11-9, the Jackrabbits took nine of the next 12 points, effectively burying the Bulldogs. SDSU took the first game 25-20.
The Bulldogs seemed to be scrambling more throughout the set, having a tougher time getting quality passes and making ball control errors.
“We just felt like we never really consistently stayed in rhythm together or were consistently on our game,” head coach Darrin McBroom said of the match as a whole.
In set two, Drake found some rhythm.
The Bulldogs held a narrow lead through 14 serves, 8-6, before starting to pull away by stringing together a few runs.
SDSU’s crisp passes from game one moved to Drake’s side for game two. The Jackrabbits committed 10 errors including a game-ending attacking error by senior Nazya Thies, while the Bulldogs only had three errors in the game.
Four kills from junior Kyla Inderski and five from senior Capris Quaites powered Drake’s lead as it went on to win the game 25-14, leading from start to finish.
“We needed that first set to shake things out,” Inderski said.
The Bulldogs carried that momentum into game three, taking an early 7-2 advantage. The crowd had been energetic before, but the opening run really encouraged the volume. It got even louder when Drake took five straight points, featuring kills from four different players, to take a 12-4 lead.
“Their energy was amazing tonight, and they really got us pumped up,” freshman setter Paige Aspinwall. “They really helped us a lot with the win tonight.”
It was a sizable turnout for a Drake Volleyball match with attendance in the 100s as several dozen Drake athletes nearly filled a section at midcourt. Other students came out in ample numbers as well to cheer on their Bulldogs (and also to collect on the free pregame pizza offered by Drake Athletics).
Griff made an appearance as well and President Marty Martin took the ceremonial first serve. (He got it over on the third try, much to the amusement of the student body.) The Drake cheerleading team and a small but vocal crew of Jackrabbit supporters further enhanced the stadium atmosphere.
Drake went on to win the third set 25-14 and was looking to finish the Jackrabbits off in the fourth.
After taking a two-point advantage early on, the Bulldogs saw their lead begin to slip away as the Jackrabbits went on a 5-1 run to take a 10-8 lead. The score was tied seven times throughout the set and the lead changed hands thrice as the Bulldogs fought to prevent a fifth set.
The Jackrabbits stayed alive by managing to keep Drake’s hits in the air, daring the Bulldogs to make mistakes. Drake committed ten errors in the game; SDSU only had four.
“I didn’t feel like I was that on (tonight),” Inderski said. “I didn’t feel like, personally, it was that great of a game. But, you know, sometimes balls fall and you’re like ‘I’ll take it.’”
Down 23-24, Inderski had a chance to eliminate SDSU’s game point on a back row spike, but the ball caught the top of the net and dropped. The Jackrabbits took the game and they were on to set five.
The Bulldogs already have a five-set match under their belts this season, a loss to the University of North Florida on Aug. 26. The Jackrabbits hadn’t had a match longer than three games this season, giving this early season Drake team a slight edge entering the set.
Early on, it looked as though the match might become a nail-biter.
Inderski gave Drake an early two-point lead with a no-doubter, cross-court hit. But SDSU’s Makenzie Hennen responded with a kill of her own to pull the Jackrabbit’s back within one.
A kill from Bulldog senior Makena Schoene, two Jackrabbit errors and an ace from Aspinwall gave Drake a small cushion, up 8-3.
SDSU called a timeout to try to regroup and slow the Bulldog attack, but it had little effect. Drake won the first point after the timeout – Inderski’s 21st and final kill of the match, tying her career high, and finished with a .405 hit percentage – and didn’t let up, taking the last six points of the match on the way to a dominant 15-4 victory.
“It was a struggle for our team (throughout the match),” Inderski said. “We really pulled it back in the last set, and we showed how we play volleyball.”
Drake had been the favorite entering the match, and so the close match – even if it resulted in a win – wasn’t particularly motivating.
Inderski confessed that the big crowd, although wholly appreciated and welcomed, was a point for nerves.
“We hadn’t played with a crowd like that much before,” she said. “It was just really exciting … There’s just little things: staying aggressive, I think I didn’t swing as hard as I could’ve on some.”
“We’re not used to playing with (a crowd like) that,” McBroom added. “I think there’s a little bit of hesitancy because (the players) don’t want to mess up, which causes everything go awry.”
Perhaps surprisingly, one of Drake’s most consistent players one of its newest: Aspinwall.
The freshman made her presence known in her first home match. She only had one error and recorded the game high with 29 assists, a season and career high.
Even with the success, she remained modest and thankful.
“If it wasn’t for my hitters I wouldn’t have gotten those assists so kudos to them,” Aspinwall said. “They’ve all been so welcoming. I feel at home right now.”
Besides Inderski’s milestone, Quaites finished with a hit percentage of .444 with 10 kills, one short of tying her career high. Senior Makena Schoene and sophomore Grace Schofield each had 13 kills as well. Senior setter Chandelle Davidson finished not far behind Aspinwall with 24 assists.
Drake Volleyball will travel to westward this weekend for three matches in the Omaha Classic, hosted by the University of Nebraska-Omaha.