Bradley volleyball battled hard this past weekend, but fell to both Valparaiso and Illinois-Chicago. Now, the season is put on the line in this week’s matchup against Illinois State.
The Braves fell to Valparaiso 3-2 on Friday, and although Bradley led in every set they were unable to finish the majority of them. Trading sets, the Braves won the first 27-25 while the Beacons took the second 25-23. The third set was collected by the Braves 25-19 but they allowed Valparaiso to tie the match with a 25-21 fourth set win.
In the decisive fifth set, the Beacons made a four-point run and never looked back, topping the Braves 15-11. Despite the loss, head coach Alicia Williams was still in high spirits.
“I think a lot more went right than wrong,” Williams said. “It boiled down to some missed opportunities when we were ahead, and the game of momentum is just so important and I felt like we lost momentum towards the end of every set. We were a very even team that night and momentum was really what won the game.”
Junior Abby Johnson led the Braves with 15 kills while three others reached double digits.
Next, the Braves took a trip to the Windy City to face the Flames of Illinois-Chicago. Bradley never really got a spark going in a 3-0 loss. The Braves were outmatched and struggled to find a rhythm, losing the three sets 25-14, 25-19, and 25-19.
UIC hit 10 aces to Bradley’s one (the largest ace difference for Bradley all season) and out-killed the Braves 49-35. Junior Doga Topcicek was the only Brave to reach 10 kills while the team as a whole committed 12 attack errors.
Williams gave credit to the high volume of play that UIC displayed Saturday.
“One [reason was we’re] not prepared for them passing lights out [and] them hitting over .400 as a team, that’s incredible,” Williams said. “We weren’t prepared for that, and our passing really fell apart in that game. We’re a very good passing team and so I think that really stressed us out because typically that’s an area we’re really, really, really good.”
As is common in sports, a rivalry almost always plays a role in how a team’s story unfolds over the season. The game to decide if Bradley will reach the conference tournament will run through Normal against their I-74 rival Illinois State. A Bradley win and a Missouri State loss allows the team to slide into the last spot in the eight-team Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The Redbirds were picked to finish atop the MVC leading up to the season but have fallen on rough times, sitting at just 5-12 in conference just like Bradley. In the last matchup, the Braves triumphed over ISU 3-1, so revenge is certainly in play. A similar outcome is needed – and a Missouri State loss – if Williams and the Braves want to head to Evansville next week.
Williams knows that the game being against ISU brings even more emotion to this already high-stakes game.
“What we need to do is prepare that it’s just as important for them, because they’re gonna give us their all as well,” Williams said. “We can’t just be like, ‘Oh, we want it more’, and let that be the factor that wins the game, cause that’s not gonna happen. They’re gonna want it just as bad as we do, especially with it being a rivalry. Our girls just need to dial in the things we can control [and] put the emotion to the side.”
It’s as if it was drawn up in a movie. Beat your rival for a last chance playoff trip.
The game will be played tonight at 6 p.m. in Normal.