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Defense anchors Bradley Volleyball to six-game win streak

Bradley volleyball celebrates following a point in a match against Indiana State. Photo via Bradley athletics.

The Bradley volleyball team continues its winning streak, reaching six consecutive wins with last weekend’s sweep over Southern Illinois. 

With this weekend’s sweep, the Braves tied the school record for their longest conference winning streak since winning the first six conference matches of the 2005 season. The team currently sits second in the Missouri Valley Conference standings with a 7-3 overall record.

“I’m proud of the girls,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “We stuck with the game plan and executed.”

Junior outside hitter Hannah Thompson moved into 18th place in career kills at Bradley this weekend and notched her 900th career kill, while also adding two double-doubles for her eighth and ninth of the season. Junior setter Kora Kauling added five service aces, 10 kills and a season-high 50 assists in Monday’s match.

Despite the Salukis’ abysmal record, they earned high praise from sophomore libero and defensive specialist Serena Sparks.

“SIU is a really good team, so we knew that we had to come out strong,” Sparks said. “[With] this team, no matter what the score is, we continue to fight.”

The Braves have been anchored this season by their stout defensive play as they currently lead the nation in digs per set with 21.69, which equates to 781 digs in 36 sets. This is an advantage in MVC play, as the Braves are followed in the category by conference foes Valparaiso and Drake. 

“Our block does a great job and sets up [so we] can just read and do our jobs,” Sparks said. “We just take pride in getting stops on defense and having that ball up mentality.”

In Sunday’s match, the Braves beat the Salukis in four sets (20-25, 25-22, 25-20 and 25-15.) The defense limited SIU to a .168 hitting percentage and added 81 total digs along with 11 blocks. Thompson paced the team with 17 digs, followed by Sparks and junior Kat Poore with 16 each. 

“I thought [the defense] was good, still on par with something that we really pride ourselves with,” Price-Torok said. “We really pride ourselves in putting Serena and our backcourt in a position to play the ball.”

Bradley once again beat Southern Illinois in four sets on Monday (25-20, 25-13, 21-25, 25-19.) The Braves hit .311 in an efficient offensive showing, but it was their consistent defense that was responsible for helping to set up the offense. 

“Our blockers’ job is to funnel the ball to our defensive players,” Price-Torok said. “It’s our defensive players’ job to put themselves in a position where they can take the ball and gives our offensive players a second opportunity to give Kora [Kauling] a second opportunity to run the offense.”

The Braves will look to continue their stellar defensive play as they travel to Valparaiso this weekend. This week, there is some extra motivation around practice. The last time the two teams faced each other, Valpo knocked the Braves out in the second round of the MVC tournament in 2019. The loss still remains on Torok’s mind.

 “You feel like your season ended short,” Price-Torok said. “I still remember what our game plan was. I still remember playing them; I still remember a lot of things about that.”

For Sparks, the loss against Valparaiso still stings nearly 460 days later.

“That loss is always playing in the back of my head,” Sparks said. “And it’s just motivation to get after it this week in practice and to go try and put a beatdown on them.”

The first serve is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Athletic Recreation Center in Valparaiso. Monday’s match is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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