After a recent 3-1 win on Wednesday, Nov. 16, against the University of Northern Iowa, Drake’s women’s volleyball team moved to a 25-6 overall record to end the regular season. In Missouri Valley Conference play, they ended with the second-best record at 16-2.
The Bulldogs also handed UNI their first conference loss of the season, spoiling what would have been a perfect 18-0 run.
Even though the victory didn’t affect playoff seeding, junior Jada Wills said it still felt “great.”
“There’s nothing like beating your rival who is the first-place seed at home for the final game of the regular season,” Wills said. “We were really just thinking we have nothing to lose.”
Drake lost the first set to UNI, 25-27, but then rallied to win the next three 25-18, 25-21 and 25-18.
Notable performances came from senior outside hitter Haley Bush, who led all players with 21 kills and first-year setter Addison Beagle, who had 47 assists.
Wills also led the team with 15 digs, adding to her total of 597 digs on the season – a number that is second-best in the MVC. Wills attributes her success this year to her teammates and coaches pushing her.
“Being second in the MVC [in] digs is great. Defense has always been my favorite thing about volleyball,” Wills added. “I think it shows what I am capable of, but [I] need to improve to get into that first place.”
The team’s last loss came against UNI a month ago and is something that the players haven’t forgotten about. Since that 1-3 loss against UNI on Oct. 11, the Bulldogs went on an 11-game win streak.
“From last year to this year, the biggest difference is just that everyone currently on the team has bought into what we are trying to do. We are trying to win games and championships and it does not go without sacrifices,” Wills said. “We have all had our individual and team struggles through the season but coming together, working together way more than in the past, has allowed for us to trust and be confident in each other.”
Drake has also been undefeated at home in the Knapp Center, including Wednesday’s win.
Junior Kacie Rewerts noted that the team started the season off on the road for six straight weeks and, over the summer, weren’t allowed to be in Knapp because of renovations. Despite the lack of time spent at home, she said the team feels “really comfortable” in their own gym.
“To get it done and go undefeated this season at home, I mean, really big. Yeah, the crowds have been great. Definitely, the biggest ones that I’ve seen while I’ve been here at Drake. And so it’s just a lot of fun to do that at home,” Rewerts said.
According to the Drake Athletic website, attendance was recorded at 1,048 people.
Rewerts received the MVC’s Defensive Player of the Week award on Thursday, Nov. 17, her second of the season.
Before the season, one of the things Rewerts wanted to improve on was her offensive play. She feels like she has gotten better at it and part of that improvement is attributed to first-year Addison Beagle.
“She’s just had really good connections as our setter with all the hitters and I just feel really confident with her in the setting position and just have felt that my offense has gotten a bit better this year too,” Rewerts said.
Rewerts also wanted to continue working on her blocking this season, a vital part of her role as middle blocker for the Bulldogs.
In the game against UNI, she recorded nine total blocks, three assists and six solo rejections. Her nine blocks matched her season-best and she leads the MVC in total blocks with 147, an average of 1.40 per set.
“This year, it’s been a little bit different just with our new coaching staff with how our defense is run and stuff like that. So it took us a bit just to get, like blocking together as a team really well,” Rewerts said. “I feel like last night [against UNI], we played really well and blocked very well as a team. And it’s just slowly gotten better over the season. Like, our offense has always been pretty strong this season. But our defense has been slowly improving, which is really nice.”
Last season, the volleyball team finished with an 11-15 overall record and lost over half of their conference games. They also notably haven’t made it to the MVC tournament for a few years.
Rewerts said the team is looking towards getting that first win in the MVC tournament before looking beyond.
“This whole season, we’ve just been trying to set ourselves up for success so that we could put ourselves in a position to actually do that as a team,” Rewerts said. “We just want to get that first win for sure, so we can get ourselves to the [Missouri Valley] Conference championship and then just see where it goes from there.”
If they win the MVC tournament, they will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament, something Drake has never achieved in the team’s history.
With the second-overall seed, Drake will compete in the MVC tournament semifinals on Tuesday, Nov. 22 in Evansville, Indiana.
Drake won their semifinal match against the University of Illinois Chicago, 3-0, to advance to the championship match against UNI. Drake lost the match 2-3, and did not qualify for the NCAA Division I Tournament. However, they will take on Weber State in the first round of the 2022 National Invitational Volleyball Championship on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 1 p.m.