Illinois State University made the trek to Bradley University to continue its Missouri Valley Conference rivalry Friday, in a night that was displaying many acts of unity.
In many circumstances, technological difficulties can be a problem, and that seemed to be the case before the game when the National Anthem was supposed to play over the speakers. With many individuals looking around, awaiting a resolution, fans in the crowd began to murmur the intro to the Anthem. Soon the gym erupted with everyone showing their patriotism in the singing of the National Anthem, one truly inspiring way to start the match.
Lighting a fire under both teams, the battle had just begun between conference foes. The Redbirds began to lose the lead due to their sloppy play early in the first set. But with Bradley struggling to maintain its own points, the ’Birds were able to put it together and recapture the lead by three. ISU slowly continued to build its lead throughout the first set, not allowing the Braves to catch up. The Braves eventually caught one of Kaylee Martin’s devastating kills and that sealed the first set 25-18.
Freshman Taylor Lynch put on a hitting clinic, as she had five kills in the first set with a perfect hitting percentage.
Piggybacking off the earlier comment of unity began to show on the ISU side, as freshman Kaity Weimerskirch came into the game filling the shoes of junior libero Kendal Meier, who is out with an injury. Being the energizer of the team, Meier was still present on the bench rooting on her fellow Redbird teammates.
Once again, the two teams came out in the second set battling to a standstill. The Braves were able to stretch a lead to three, but not for long as the ’Birds immediately fought right back to a tie. Fighting neck and neck through the late stages of the set, a Bradley timeout seemed to change the momentum in the match. The Braves were able to go on a 7-2 run to halt the tight match and take the set, capitalizing on multiple ISU errors. Each of the two teams had a total of 11 ties in the second set, before Bradley took the set win 25-21.
Right out of the gates for the ’Birds, Lynch had two kills to give the ’Birds an early advantage in the third set. Before you know it though, Hannah Thompson of the Braves reignited her team, also generating two kills to tie the match up at 9-9.
Once Bradley was able to tie the third set, the Braves rode their momentum. The Redbirds’ struggles would follow them into the third set, as they continued to give Bradley free points off of errors. The Braves, in their own right, played a very clean game but could only seem to maintain a lead off of Redbird errors. A kill by Martin that was setup by Stef Jankiewicz forced Bradley into a timeout up 23-22.
Kaylee Martin was doing everything in her power to keep her team into the third set, converting on three consecutive kills to push the score into overtime. Before any more damage could be done, Bradley’s Rachel Pranger and Raeann Bergman had back to back kills to finish the set 26-24.
After falling in the last two sets, the ’Birds came out looking to avenge their losses, starting the fourth set on a 11-3 run. Jankiewicz was running the offense as she accounted for 56 assists through four sets. Many of her teammates were able to add a kill to their stat totals, putting a beating on the Braves throughout the entirety of the set. Pranger started to build momentum for the Braves, but Martin and Emmy Ogogor quickly shut that down and took the fourth set 25-11.
The ’Birds started hot in the fifth set, but three consecutive errors killed any momentum the ’Birds had put forth. The errors forced head coach Leah Johnson to call a timeout, strategizing with her team in the last set of the match.
The ’Birds seem to be out of sorts mid-way through the fifth set, as the Braves were hitting on all cylinders going on an 8-2 run to put Bradley at match point 14-8. Back to back kills by Martin and Ogogor allowed for the ’Birds to have a sense of hope, before a kill by Karagan Coggin gave the Braves the set 15-10, winning the match 3-2.
ISU (9-7, 2-2) will return to action at 6 p.m. Friday at Drake.