The Bradley volleyball team concluded its season on Thanksgiving Day with a five-set loss to Valparaiso in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The loss finalizes a campaign that produced an even .500 record and saw three Braves selected for all-conference honors.
All told, it was a successful season for the Braves (15-15, 11-7 MVC), who weathered a season of parity in the MVC to enter the tournament with the fourth seed in hand. This season’s conference volleyball season saw upsets aplenty and challenges from teams who missed the cutoff for the conference tournament.
As such, it was no easy task for the Braves to get to the conference tournament.
“When everyone is beating everyone in conference, the tournament becomes anyone’s game,” Bradley head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “You can see that with a three seed [Illinois State] winning it this year or with a five-setter between us and Valpo.”
“I think you see a lot of high-level volleyball, and we have to continue to put ourselves in a situation so when it comes to conference tournament time, we’re confident and we’ve been there and we know what to do,” Price-Torok said.
In getting to the tournament, the Braves dealt with hurdles early and often. From the outset of the 2019 campaign, Bradley looked to fill the gap left by the departure of the seniors from the 24-win team a year prior.
They did that in a big way, with all of the team’s all-conference honorees being underclassmen. Sophomore outside hitters Hannah Thompson and Rachel Pranger were selected to the MVC first and second teams, while middle Raeann Bergman was named to the all-freshman squad.
All three cited their teammates as a key reason for their individual accolades.
“It definitely is a team-first mentality with this group because we didn’t have a ton of individual awards when you compare to Illinois State and UNI,” Thompson said. “Carol was telling us how that shows how much of a team we are. I can attest to that because my successes wouldn’t be possible without my passers and the people next to me.”
“I know, clearly, you can’t do it without anyone else, especially in volleyball where everyone touches the ball,” Pranger said. “Everyone really just helped all of us out to get to where we were.”
Only two seniors – setter Hannah Angeli and middle blocker Maggie Revell – will depart the team due to graduation this spring. That leaves the Braves with an exciting young core, headlined by an all-conference selection in Bergman and fellow freshman Carlee Camlin who lead the team in assists.
“I’ve had the best mentors,” Bergman said. “The seniors this year leaving … I’ve learned a lot from them. Taking home the award wasn’t expected, but it showed how hard we all worked and how it all gelled together.”
The season began slowly for the Braves, who kicked off non-conference play with an 0-3 record in the SMU Invitational. Success didn’t elude the squad for long, however, as they hosted and won the CEFCU Invitational in the season’s second weekend.
As Price-Torok noted earlier this season, the Braves’ non-conference schedule was built to prepare them for the competition they would encounter in conference play. Bradley faced an NCAA Tournament qualifier in Stephen F. Austin in August and a 27-win South Dakota team in September. Though both ended in losses for the Braves, the experiences proved valuable as the team moved into conference play.
Valley play began on an odd note on Sept. 27 as the team dropped its home opener to Southern Illinois, that finished eighth in the conference, in five sets. The match – one of the longest in Bradley history – was marred by two separate delays for severe weather in the area. Bradley bounced back the next night with a triumph over Missouri State, and was on its way to a 10-6 record over the season’s last 16 matches.
With the season now over, the team now turns its attention to the offseason.
“[We’ll look at] stats and or things that they did and say ‘Hey you’re at one-and-a-half kills per set, we’ve gotta figure out how to get you to two,’” Price-Torok said. “Being able to utilize everyone and everyone being such a huge part really gets them into the spring with a plan of what they want to do and what they need to get better at.”
Though the season didn’t end with a postseason run for the Braves, it was nevertheless a season filled with highlights. And with only two players graduating from this year’s squad, look for next season’s team to build on this season’s success.