The Bradley Volleyball team wrapped up its season with a four-set loss to rival Illinois State in the semifinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament (13-25, 25-23, 25-27, 10-25) on April 2.
Junior outside hitter Hannah Thompson earned her 1000th career kill, finishing the match with 17 kills and 14 digs. Freshman Doga Topcicek followed with nine kills, along with a team-leading 20 digs on the defensive end.
“Illinois State was obviously a really, really great team,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said of the eventual conference champ. “I think when you get really tight in sets against two really, really good teams, the ball can bounce either way.”
Things did not go the Braves’ way in the first frame. An 11-1 run by the Redbirds was too much to overcome as they cruised to a 25-13 win in the opening set. The ensuing frame was a thriller, featuring 10 ties and three lead changes. A kill from junior Kora Kauling got the Braves to set point at 24-23, followed by a kill from sophomore Raeann Bergman to seal a 25-23 set win.
Like the second set, the third set featured intense competition from both teams. The Redbirds led by as much as six points in the third set, but the Braves refused to go away quietly. Two failed set points proved to be costly for Bradley as Illinois State won the third stanza 27-25.
“We are playing against the best serving and blocking team in the conference, so they make you really put back-to-back solid points together,” Price-Torok said. “We didn’t do that two times in a row to finish that set out.”
Bradley never got going in the fourth and final set. Illinois State’s .621 hitting percentage carried them to a 25-10 match win en route to the conference championship.
“We were on a high, and then we didn’t finish how we wanted to,” sophomore middle blocker Karagan Coggin said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do that fourth set.”
In the end, Price-Torok took full responsibility for the fourth set meltdown.
“I should have switched some matchups,” Price-Torok said. “I wish I would have flipped our rotations a little bit, so we had some different matchups, and the matchups we had just weren’t great.”
Despite the loss in the tournament, it was a successful season nonetheless for the Braves, who finished with a 12-7 record in a pandemic-shortened season, and three players achieved conference honors. Thompson and Kauling took home first-team All-Valley Honors while Coggin was named to the second-team. Coggin gave credit to her teammates for the accolades.
“Without the rest of the team, I wouldn’t be able to do or succeed what I did,” Coggin said. “You had the great passes for me and great sets from Kora [Kauling] and all of our back row people to make me look good.”
Overall, the season was defined by overcoming obstacles. The Braves were forced to overcome the loss of three seniors before the season and key players Rachel Pranger and Kat Poore to injury. The eventual return of Pranger and Poore could not come at a better time for the Braves, who will return all of their core talent for the fall season.
“That’s a big confidence boost,” Price-Torok said. “It will definitely refresh us and give us some more weapons and ways to score points.”
Overall, Coggin believes the spring season is a fine tune-up for the fall season.
“As much as we didn’t get to where we wanted to, we still succeeded in many ways,” Coggin said. “We went through all the adversity, and it’s only going to help us for next season.”
With the season over, the Braves will draw their attention to improvement in the offseason.
“A big key is rehabbing and getting stronger,” Price-Torok said. “So hopefully you see some of those young players come back stronger, faster, and we’re going to look to play a faster style of volleyball.”