A loss on the road against rival Illinois State and first-round exit isn’t how head coach Carol Price-Torok and the Bradley volleyball team expected to end their season.
The good news is that Braves volleyball will live to see another day, as they earned a berth in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship Tournament, the second postseason trip in program history.
Bradley (16-14) begins its hopes of a postseason run against regional hosts Chicago State (17-10) in a match that will be a true road contest for the Braves at the Jones Convocation Center. Not to say that Bradley doesn’t have its advantages though.
The contest will be the Braves’ fifth in a row away from Renaissance Coliseum, where they have not played since Nov. 6. During the course of its 2021 campaign, Bradley has posted a 6-6 record in road games, the first time that they have achieved a .500 or higher mark since 2002.
A seasoned squad certainly helped Bradley’s strong play on the road, but the Braves also feature previous postseason experience on their roster. Seniors Hannah Thompson, Rachel Pranger and Kora Kauling all played in the 2018 NIVC, the program’s inaugural postseason berth, where Bradley eliminated Bowling Green before suffering an exit against regional hosts Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Kauling, who was recently awarded MVC Setter of the Year, played in the same tournament for Wichita State before transfering to the Hilltop two years later.
The senior trio of Bradley front-liners have assuredly experienced their share of robust opponents but Thompson, Pranger and Kauling may have never seen as many in one season as the Braves did in 2021. Twelve of Bradley’s foes this season have gone on to earn a bid in postseason play, the most out of the four teams in their regional (Sam Houston State and MVC member Evansville being the other two).
Five out of the last six of the Braves’ opponents have qualified for postseason play. Indiana State, who Bradley played twice during that stretch, joins Evansville and Valparaiso in the NIVC and Illinois State earned a clash against No. 6 Purdue in the NCAA Tournament after winning the MVC Championship. The Braves’ sixth opponent, Loyola, won the regular-season MVC title at 14-4 but was questionably snubbed from a postseason opportunity.
The Braves and Cougars last saw each other in 2017, where Chicago State snapped a nine-game Bradley win streak in the series. Since then, both programs have gone in opposite directions, as Bradley has gone 67-45 since its 10-22 season in 2017 came to a close. Western Athletic Conference member Chicago State, meanwhile, has only managed a 33-68 record during that same span, with over half of those victories coming this season.
The two teams share a common opponent on their schedule in Eastern Michigan, whom the Braves and Cougars both swept in non-conference action. Additionally, Bradley swept Illinois-Chicago in an exhibition match to begin the season; Chicago State fell in four sets to the Flames earlier in the year.
The winner of the match will take on the winner of Evansville and Sam Houston State on Friday at 7 p.m. Should the Braves advance into the third round, possibilities of a familiar opponent await, as MVC rivals Indiana State and Valparaiso make up half of the four teams on the lower half of the bracket.
The Braves embark on their second postseason berth in team history tonight at 7:30 p.m.