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Redbirds shift momentum, storm past Braves in five

Hannah Thompson spikes against Illinois State on Monday. Photo courtesy of Evan Temchin/Bradley University

It was a tale of streaks and momentum shifts for Bradley volleyball on Monday night.

“They started coming on [early],” Bradley head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “But the second and third set, they made all the errors, so we had to make sure that we were ready to get after it [in the next sets], but we just couldn’t get back into a flow of it offensively.”

Renaissance Coliseum played host to a strong crowd Monday night when Bradley (9-11) welcomed its I-74 rival, Illinois State (10-11), in a battle for sole possession of second place in the MVC.

Bradley, coming off a five-set loss to conference leader Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, was looking to rebound against its bitter conference rival.

The game started with Illinois State, taking the first set 25-23, putting the pressure on the home team, despite a late surge from the Braves.

Despite the set loss, senior outside hitter Hannah Thompson became just the fifth player in MVC history to amass 1,200 career kills and 1,700 career digs.

Responding to that pressure, the Braves made the Redbirds feel the heat by taking advantage of a vast amount of ISU errors, rattling off 13 points in the last 17 serves to take the second set by a score of 25-16.

But the Braves kept their foot on the gas. 

With the crowd roaring in the background, Bradley led from start to finish in a dominating 25-13 third set victory. The Redbirds decided they needed to readjust.

The fourth setwas a back-and-forth fight, with both teams capturing  streaks of momentum that kept the score close, but the Redbirds ultimately took the series by a tight score of 25-19, setting up yet another big fifth set for the Braves.  

“I think they started using our hands more, which is something we hadn’t seen up until that point because they were hitting it long,” senior setter Kora Kauling said. “We just didn’t adjust fast enough.”

In the pivotal fifth set, the momentum had clearly shifted in the arena towards Illinois St., and it never left them. The Braves, clearly flustered by the swift adjustment and a .600 hitting percentage in the set from the Redbirds, couldn’t climb back and would go on to lose in five by a score of 15-7.

The loss – the Braves’ second five-set loss in a row – was tough for the Braves to swallow.  Price-Torok immediately knew why the team struggled down the stretch..

“I think our serving was a little soft, and we had to pass a little bit better.” Price-Torok said. “They put a lot of pressure on us from the service line and we didn’t handle it well enough.”

While the effects of a ] loss like this can linger, the team is more focused on picking up the pieces and building back momentum for the second half of conference play.

“This is a really fun group to play with,” Kauling said. “Everyone works hard, and everyone wants to win and cares about each other.”

Behind Thompson’s game-high 13 kills and 17 digs, sophomore Abby Johnson added 10 kills while true freshman Silan Demirkol had nine kills, seven digs, and three service aces. 

The Braves, now fifth in the MVC, will look to move past their nail-biting loss when they look for the season sweep versus Drake in Peoria on Friday at 6 P.M.

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