With a playoff spot already locked up, the Bradley volleyball team could have cruised into their games at Valparaiso and Loyola without caring to win. They did not need to win their two road games this past weekend.
They did anything but that.
On Friday, the team started their final road trip of the regular season with a victory over Valparaiso in five sets. After Bradley took a 2-1 set lead, the Crusaders forced a fifth set after a tight 25-22 fourth set win. The fifth set was tied at 14, but Bradley quickly jumped ahead and a pair of consecutive kills by Erica Haslag sealed the Braves victory.
Haslag led the Braves with 20 kills, followed by freshman Hannah Thompson’s 13 and sophomore Sara Maddox’s 10.
The team then headed north to Chicago to take on Loyola Saturday evening. Bradley promptly found themselves in a 2-0 hole after losing the first set 16-23 and second set 25-27. The Braves then battled back, taking the final three sets 25-19, 25-20 and 15-11 to snatch the victory from the Ramblers on their senior night.
“Once we went down 2-0 it was kind of a different mindset,” Haslag said. “It was for pride. We didn’t have to win that game, but we needed to win for ourselves.”
“It was exciting, obviously a little stressful but I was really excited that they grinded it out,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “It was good to see people like Erica and Rachel Pranger step up to really make a difference for us.”
Haslag led the team again with 28 kills, her fifth 20-kill game in the last six matches. Thompson collected her 17th double-double of the season with 12 kills and 13 digs. Freshman Rachel Pranger contributed 12 kills including three in the decisive fifth set.
The Braves have now improved their record in five-set matches to 4-2, winning their last four five-set matches.
“A big thing for us is we have the confidence now to win those big sets,” senior Abby Ihrke said. “We have [confidence] all the way through, even when we’re losing. It’s been a big difference this year.”
The win secured the No. 3 seed in the MVC tournament for the Braves, who are now slated to play the No. 5 seeded team at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 22 in Springfield, Missouri.
Bradley will finish off the regular season with the I-74 Rivalry versus Illinois State tonight at home. The Braves have a chance to knock off the first place Redbirds (16-1, 24-5), who have won the past 15 matchups against the Braves.
“[A win] would be really exciting, especially considering it’s Illinois State,” Ihrke said. “I firmly believe we can [win]. I’m really excited.”
“It’s cool that we get to play ISU the last game because we get to show them what we’re about before we get to the tournament and face them again because we’re on their side of the bracket,” Haslag said. “They’re gonna be scared.”
Bradley will face Illinois State and celebrate senior night before the 7 p.m. game tonight at Renaissance Coliseum.