As the 2019 NCAA volleyball regular season begins to wind to a close, just three weekends and six matches remain for Bradley.
Yet for the Braves, who have now won five of their last seven matches and stand alone in third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, the end of the season coincides nicely with the arrival of two key ingredients: consistency and rhythm.
Bradley enters this weekend’s matches following two crucial victories. A five-set triumph against Illinois State on Nov. 1 boosted them into sole possession of third place in the MVC, which was followed up by another five-set win on the road at Evansville on Nov. 3.
Organization played a pivotal role in the Braves’ win against Illinois State.
“For us it was just trying to stay organized,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “It’s tough to play there. They have a really big gym and they’re a great serving and passing team in general. For us, we were just talking a lot about that first contact and touching that first contact and getting out of that.”
Sophomore Hannah Thompson notched a season-high 19 kills and 23 digs in the win against the Redbirds, while sophomore Rachel Pranger led the way with 18 kills and 21 digs in the win over Evansville. The Evansville match, which was played to five sets on Monday night, creates a short turnaround as the Braves prepare to host Drake on Friday night. Price-Torok said the team is trying to stay fresh despite the short week.
“Saturday and Sunday, we weren’t doing much,” said Price-Torok, noting that preparation for the Drake match began even before the Evansville match. “[Tuesday] was an off day, [Wednesday] we did do some things, but we also need to make sure we’re staying fresh so we can put two great back-to-back performances together.”
A key for the Braves this season has been their corps of freshman middle blockers: Raeann Bergman and Karagan Coggin. The two have combined for 218 kills in 160 sets, with Bergman tallying 15 and Coggin notching 10 over the weekend. Bergman credits the team’s senior leadership with helping them to step up and make an impact.
“We had great people here like [seniors] Maggie [Revell] and Kat Graf,” Bergman said. “They’re great mentors. I learned a lot from them and they’ve helped with the adjustment. We’re leaning on each other, so it’s all been good.”
After Bradley hosts Drake on Friday night, the Braves’ attention will turn toward a home tilt with conference-leading Northern Iowa the next night.
“UNI has been going four or five sets with people this year, so they have some vulnerabilities,” Price-Torok said. “It’s just being able to put two back-to-back matches together. We’re playing really well.”
Price-Torok also highlighted the Panthers’ unconventional style of offense as a factor to watch for. Difficult to scout, the UNI attack is centered around players who can play every position in the front row.
“You really have to stay organized with what the setter is doing,” Price-Torok said. “I think that can be hard sometimes. If you get yourself unorganized, they can kind of score and go on a little bit of a run.”
Bradley hosts Drake (9-17, 3-10) on Friday at 6 p.m. and Northern Iowa (18-9, 12-1) on Saturday at 5 p.m.