Despite going winless in the SMU Invitational in Dallas, Texas to open the 2019 season, optimism remains high for the Bradley volleyball team.
And perhaps more importantly, expectations remain high as well. After all, the Braves ranked third in the Missouri Valley Conference coaches poll and are one season removed from 24 wins and a third-place finish in the conference standings.
Some familiar faces return, but this season’s Braves team is markedly different from last year’s. Key players from last season were lost to graduation, including libero Yavianliz Rosado, outside hitter Erica Haslag and defensive specialist Abby Ihrke, forcing the Braves to employ a younger lineup in 2019.
“We have 10 underclassmen,” head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “At any given point, a majority of them will be playing on the court. It’s exciting because they’re going to be here for a long time and they’re getting a lot of great experience.”
Among those underclassmen is freshman middle blocker Karagan Coggin, who tallied 13 kills and 20 points in the season’s first three matches. The Tennessee native said positive takeaways abound, despite the losses.
“We actually played pretty well,” Coggin said of the Braves’ performance. “We did have our moments where we struggled, but overall we did play well.”
Bradley opened the tournament with a 3-0 loss to host SMU, with sophomores Rachel Pranger and Hannah Thompson both tallying nine kills. Pranger recorded eight kills in Bradley’s second match of the tournament, a 3-0 loss to Stephen F. Austin.
The Braves closed out the weekend with a 3-1 loss to UTSA, despite 19 digs and 15 kills from Thompson and 14 kills from sophomore Washington State transfer Lida Kastanou.
“It was a tough weekend,” Price-Torok said. “We knew it was going to be a tough weekend facing schools that always do really well with their confidence, so it was a great test for us.”
Price-Torok noted that inconsistency plagued the team over the weekend.
“If you look at the stats, there are some extreme highs in some categories and some lows,” she said. “For us it’s just trying to put those together. One day we struggled a bit offensively scoring points and we figured that out, then maybe didn’t serve and pass as well as we wanted to.”
The Braves’ attention now turns to the CEFCU Invitational at Renaissance Coliseum on Sept. 7 and 8. The round-robin tournament, which Bradley finished a perfect 3-0 in 2018, will feature Belmont, Oakland and DePaul. Hopes are high as the Braves seek to repeat that success.
“We’re trying to bounce back from last weekend,” Coggin said. “We’re playing really hard in practice … we’re here to fight, and we’re here to bounce back from that.”
The Braves boast a notable home-court advantage while playing on campus, with last season’s undefeated CEFCU Invitational kicking off a home schedule that eventually saw the Braves go 14-1.
“We’re excited to play at home in front of our fans,” Price-Torok said. “We always play better at [Renaissance Coliseum] with that extra push of everybody in the stands.”
Bradley hosts Belmont at 12:30 p.m. today, Oakland at 7 p.m. today and DePaul at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Renaissance Colisuem.