Following a dominant straight-set victory over Northern Illinois on Sept. 21, Bradley Volleyball will head into Missouri Valley Conference play with momentum following a trying nonconference schedule.
Coming off a four-set loss to an 11-1 South Dakota team, the Braves came out with a vengeance Saturday afternoon.
Bradley seized control of the match early on, taking the first set 25-17 with the Huskies never possessing a lead. NIU struck first in the second set, as it ran out to an early lead, but the Braves eventually took the set 25-20 after seven ties and three lead changes. Bradley made quick work in the match clinching third set, winning 25-13.
Bradley dominated in attack percentage, hitting .390 compared to NIU’s .085.
The Braves saw consistency from all sides of the court, something the team has struggled with early on.
“You saw our middles step up today, and our setters being super consistent,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “I’m proud of our girls for continuing to play and continuing to work through some of that stuff.”
The step-up was evident in the numbers in the post-game box score. Freshmen middle blockers Raeann Bergman and Karagan Coggin had five-block assists apiece. Senior setter Hannah Angeli had 25 assists, followed by 16 from freshman Carlee Camlin.
Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Pranger led the offensive effort with 14 kills, closely followed by fellow sophomore outside hitter Hannah Thompson, who posted a double-double with 13 kills and 16 digs.
“I think we just didn’t overthink it,” Thompson said. “All of us felt in our rhythm and in our flow. Volleyball is a very big mental game, so when you’re not overthinking what you’re hitting and you can just play, that’s how you be consistent.”
One thing that contributed to Bradley’s offensive success was the effort of junior libero Emma Raleigh.
Price-Torok switched liberoes before the game, putting Raleigh in the jersey over freshman Serena Sparks, who played at the position for most of the early-season. Raleigh had 13 digs and a service ace.
“Switching [Raleigh] to the libero today and really having her spearhead that passing for us really gave us a little bit of a boost that we needed,” Price-Torok said. “It’s great to see her with her experience and what she has going there passing wise so our setters can do their job.”
Bradley captured the victory in front of a crowd of 1,122, good for the fifth largest crowd in Renaissance Coliseum history.
“We love playing at home because of our fans, so whenever we have a lot of people here it only makes playing volleyball so much more fun,” Thompson said.
With the win, the Braves wrap up non-conference play at 4-7. Of Bradley’s 11 opponents, just three had losing records.
“I think we have to put ourselves in that situation to be successful in conference,” Price-Torok said. “We’re gonna face teams that we played in pre-season, and we were doing really, really competitive things, and we were right there. We’ve got to be put in those situations, so when we get there in conference, we know what it’s like.”
The Braves will start their MVC journey tonight at 6 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum. Tomorrow, Missouri State, who tied for third with Bradley in the MVC coaches’ poll, will visit Peoria to take on the Braves at 5 p.m.