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Positives abound for Braves Volleyball after CEFCU Invitational

Freshman McKenna Schieb goes up for a block against SEMO on August 28. Courtesy Bradley Athletics.

Although the Bradley Braves volleyball team began their 2021-22 season with three home losses at the CEFCU Invitational last weekend at Renaissance Coliseum, head coach Carol Price-Torok’s squad has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their upcoming campaign. 

With Mid-American Conference and Ohio Valley Conference favorites Central Michigan and Southeast Missouri State in the field, as well as a strong DePaul team, Bradley knew the tournament would be a much-needed preseason tune-up. 

Despite losing their three matches, two Braves stood out. Senior outside hitter Hannah Thompson became the Bradley volleyball’s all-time digs leader and freshman outside hitter McKenna Scheib took home all-tournament honors, headlined by a 11-kill performance in just her third collegiate game.  

“I could really care less about [stats],” Thompson said. “I mean stats don’t lie, obviously I want to produce on the court for my team, but it does feel good to be the all-time dig leader. I’m proud of that, but I think it’s more of a testament to my teammates.”

Thompson picked up her 1,438th kill of her illustrious Bradley career in the first match of the Braves’ season against Central Michigan, which Bradley dropped in four sets.

The native of nearby Pekin, Illinois has exemplified a team-first mentality with a similar goal in mind.

“Me and my coaches’ defensive drills are able to put me in that position [to become all-time digs leader]. I think it’s more of a reflection of that versus my skill personally,” Thompson said.

Thompson has been fueled by a chip on her shoulder for her entire career.

“She has everything to prove, because the most important thing to her legacy is not her individual success but the team’s and she wants a conference championship,” Price-Torok added. “She is the ultimate selfless player.” 

The Braves jumped out to a 6-2 lead in their first set of the season on Friday night, taking advantage of four attack errors from the Chippewas. Central Michigan responded with a 15-6 run and took the first set 25-18. 

Bradley rebounded in the second set, tying the game at 18 behind five kills each from sophomore Abby Johnson and senior Rachel Pranger. Thompson put the Braves on the doorstep of a set victory after three kills and Pranger finished the game with one of her 11 kills of the night. 

After missing the entire 2021 season with an injury, Pranger made her presence apparent in her return to the court, racking up 22 kills and 31 digs over the weekend.

The Braves volleyball team returns nearly every player from last year’s roster, adding Pranger back into the mix as well as four freshmen and two transfers ready to make an impact. 

“We are excited to have Rachel back on the court and need her experience and point scoring,” Price-Torok said. “We have a deep bench and with no off-season, we are working through some lineups and personnel this preseason.”

However, no newcomer shone brighter for the Braves in the CEFCU Invitational than Scheib, whose team-high 11 kills against DePaul provided an offensive spark. 

Trailing in the match 2-0, the freshman from Ankeny, Iowa recorded three kills early on in the third set. After DePaul took a 19-12 advantage, the Braves rattled off six straight points, capped off by an emphatic kill from Scheib. The third-set rally helped the freshman shed some nervousness she encountered earlier in the weekend.  

“It was really fun and really unexpected if I’m being honest,” Scheib said about her performance. “Being successful on my swings kept giving me more confidence like ‘Okay, you can do it, you just did.’ I’m glad I had that little introduction on Friday because then when I got a little bit more playing time on Saturday, I felt a little bit more relaxed and less pressure.”

Scheib has impressed her veteran teammates, including Thompson.

“I know how she said she was nervous, but her presence on the court was very calm and confident,” Thompson said about Scheib. “In those moments, that’s what we really needed from her and she delivered that.” 

The Blue Demons finished the game on a 6-3 run to emerge victorious, using well-placed attacks on their way to a 3-0 victory. 

“I think our opponents did a very good job of digging and there were a lot of rallies which gets frustrating for a hitter,” Thompson said. “They were able to attack [our outsides] and they had a lot of success doing that.” 

Before the match against DePaul, Bradley clashed with Southeast Missouri State and took the third set 26-24, but fell in fourth set. Although the Braves sustained the loss, Thompson recorded the 60th double-double of her Bradley career. 

“We did a lot of good things,” Thompson said.  “We did go 0-3, but at the same time, this is preseason and that’s where we figure out what’s working and what’s not working because what really matters is conference [games]. Obviously, we were all frustrated since no one likes to lose, but it was nice knowing we were getting better each set.”

With a week of practice after encountering outside competition for the first time this season, the Braves will travel to Michigan for the Golden Grizzlies Invitational, hosted by Oakland University.  

“We didn’t get the results we wanted this weekend but we had moments of great volleyball,” Price-Torok said. “We have a really tough pre-conference schedule planned to test us and prepare us for a tough conference slate. We are excited about the competition and will continue to build and grow as a group.” 

 

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