Bradley volleyball (7-8) started the conference season at home with two losses to Northern Iowa (UNI) (7-6) and Drake (9-5), both by a score of 3-0.
The Braves are in the midst of one of their better seasons over the past few years, but things took a turn for the worst last weekend. Not only did Bradley begin conference play 0-2, they also lost two key players – senior Doga Topcicek and freshman Tendai Titley – for the rest of the season.
Against UNI on Friday, Bradley had a ton of energy and pushed the Panthers near their breaking point. In the first set however, they fell 32-30 and then followed the frame with 25-21 and 25-20 losses. The injuries to Topcicek and Titley hurt the Braves, and the team may have lost some composure after their teammates went down.
“We just had to really fight through yet another injury and we were really trying to not make excuses and try to fight through some of that,” head coach Alicia Williams said.
In Bradley’s battle with UNI, the Braves bench was depleted, which eventually caused them to fall short.
“We ran out of subs, we had people serving that hadn’t served before, we had people playing back row and front row that hadn’t before,” Willaims said.
Even though they were out of their element, Bradley showed a lot of fight. For fifth-year senior Karagan Coggin, the start of conference play served as a learning experience for the team.
“I think that if we can pull some of that confidence we had in that 30-32 set into other games we’re going to be perfectly okay,” Coggin said.
The day after the sweep against UNI, Bradley took on Drake and lost the three sets 25-18, 25-21 and 25-12.
“Against Drake, we took just a little dip because to lose two players within a week is just a really tough pill to swallow,” Williams said. “I’m just really proud of our girls for just having to get through that.”
Even after losing two outside hitters, the Braves’ energy is still there heading into the rest of conference play. As for now, it’s a next-player-up mentality for the team.
Going into matchups against Belmont and Murray State, the Braves face two teams who, unlike last weekend’s opponents, are not the top teams in the conference.
“Murray State has arguably the best defense in the league; they’re ranked top in digs and also in opponents scoring,” Williams said. “So we know we have to really stay aggressive so we can score points without two people on our roster that are typically known for scoring points for us. We have to really just buck up and step up to the challenge.”
Bradley will battle the Bruins on Friday at 6 p.m. before quickly turning around to play the Racers on Saturday at 1 p.m.