Bradley volleyball (5-12, 1-4 MVC) has turned a corner in their first home stretch in conference play with close weekend matches against Illinois-Chicago (11-6, 3-2 MVC) and Valparaiso (15-2, 3-2 MVC), along with a Tuesday match against I-74 rival Illinois State. The rivalry win over the Redbirds broke a five-game losing streak.
“It’s great to finally see things that we have been working on actually result in a win,” head coach Alicia Williams said.
It was hunting season for Bradley, as they downed the Redbirds in four sets. Despite a third set scare, the Braves were able to seal the deal and grab the win over the preseason favorites in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Junior middle blocker/outside hitter Abby Johnson ended the first set with a kill that gave the Braves a 25-21 win over the Redbirds. ISU picked up the pace early on in the second set before the Braves tied things up and took the set 25-23.
However, the Redbirds weren’t going to go out in three sets and took the third set 25-20. Another great start from ISU, coupled with two five-point leads and a Bradley service error were enough for them to take the frame.
Illinois State started off strong once more in the fourth set, but this time around, the Braves made the comeback. Bradley took the match-winning set 25-20, with senior middle blocker Karagan Coggin having a great day at the office with 18 kills, two aces and three blocks. Sophomore Silan Demirkol also provided the Braves with 12 kills and one ace.
In the Friday matchup against new Missouri Valley opponent Illinois-Chicago, Bradley fell to the Flames in three sets. Coming off a big win against Valpo, UIC kept the ball rolling by collecting their second conference win in a row.
While the match was decided in three sets, all of them were hotly contested with no set being won by more than six points. The first two sets ended 25-19, 25-20 with a closer third set ending in 27-25. Junior Doga Topcicek and Coggin led the charge against the Flames with 11 and 10 kills respectively.
“We’ve picked up the intensity from a defensive perspective, and that has created some opportunities attacking-wise,” Williams said.
A five-set thriller followed at Renaissance Coliseum on Saturday, as Bradley narrowly lost the match against a 14-2 Valparaiso team. The Beacons shined through the first and second sets with 25-22 and 26-24 victories. However, the Braves fought back from being down by two sets with wins in the third and fourth set 27-25 and 26-24 respectively.
It all came down to the fifth set, which the Braves were previously 3-2 in. Bradley lost some of their edge, allowing Valpo to snatch the win 15-9. Topcicek led the Braves in kills with 20 while Johnson followed closely behind with 14. Senior Serena Sparks recorded three aces and Coggin led the Braves in blocks with six.
“I think we have turned a corner in the last week and so we know what we need to get done,” Williams said. “All three teams had really good outside hitters that can move the ball really well.”
Looking forward, the Braves have a difficult weekend coming up with tough matchups against the Northern Iowa Panthers (11-6, 4-0 MVC) and the Drake Bulldogs (12-5, 3-1 MVC). With both squads sitting at the top of the MVC, this trip to Iowa will surely test Williams’ Braves.
“We have to run with our momentum from the game against Illinois State and stay consistent with our identity,” Williams said.