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Braves fall short to Evansville in MVC tournament

Carlee Camlin and her teammates walk towards the bench. Photo by Jenna Zeise.

Coming off the heroics of a rivalry win versus Illinois State to stake their spot as an eight seed, Bradley volleyball’s season came to a close after a 3-1 loss to fifth-seeded Evansville on Sunday.

The Purple Aces downed the Braves in their own backyard, taking the first, third and fourth sets. Evansville ended another Braves championship run, as they downed Bradley in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship by the same score last year.

“I thought we played hard, [but] I would have liked us to have a little more fight in the fourth set,” head coach Alicia Williams said. “They went on a mini run, but the score was within two or three points until we hit about 16 when our team mentally broke and they ran away with it.”

In the opening set, the Braves and Aces found it difficult to take a head start. However, the Aces broke through and went on a four-point run that gave them a 10-6 lead. See-saw action followed as Evansville increased their lead with another four-point run, putting the home team in front 22-16. The first set was wrapped up after the final three points that the Aces needed came from Braves’ attacking errors.

“Evansville is a very hard team to play, especially in their home court,” junior Doga Topcicek said. “That’s not like any of the other courts that we play in the Valley. It’s like a small gym that was almost full of fans.”

The crowd of 712 was much quieter in the following set as the Braves calmed their tournament nerves, earning a convincing 25-14 win. After an initial tussle, Bradley was able to record a seven-point run that put them on top 16-6.

“I think everyone did their job perfectly and we didn’t make a lot of errors,” Topcicek said. “We outworked them and played our game.”

The Braves took the set after an attack error from the Aces leveled the match score at one all.

In the closest set of the day, the Aces took a crucial 25-22 decision despite the Braves early momentum, which started with two four-point runs after going down by a pair in the opening minutes of the set. As leads were won and lost, ties were the main theme of this set as there were 14 knots before Evansville wrapped up the set with a couple of kills and an attacking error from the Braves.

“It was a close set and I thought that we actually had it, but Evansville just doesn’t give up especially when they’re on their home court,” Topcicek said. “Even if Evansville [is] down a set or two, they just don’t give up and are able to make the comeback, which they did.”

The Aces kept their good momentum from the third set into the fourth, winning the match set 25-16. The tournament hosts went on an early four-point run to start the set 8-2, but Bradley kept pulling themselves back in the game – putting themselves one point from tying the score at 13-12. Despite being 10 points behind, the Braves gained two more points before the Aces got the match point.

Topcicek led Bradley with 16 kills, followed by senior Karagan Coggin with 11. Senior Raeann Bergman led the Braves in blocks with seven. On the Aces side, Giulia Cardona registered 25 kills and Alondra Vazquez had 13 digs, as both players proved to be crucial in their team’s win.

“We split the matchups this season and we knew they were a beatable team,” Williams said. “We did a good job shutting down Vazquez, but Cardona had the night of her life and we just didn’t have an answer.”

In the first year of the Williams era, the Braves once again made the conference tournament after being predicted to finish fourth in the preseason. It’s the program’s fifth straight season making the tourney, and Williams and company will look to continue that streak next year and beyond.

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