Illinois State University began its four-game road trip at Evansville Monday night, looking to continue its stretch of dominant performances as of late.
Both teams come into the game with winning records, but Evansville, leaning on an undefeated record at home, makes this game much more difficult for the Redbirds.
The ’Birds started the game with pressure right out of the gate. Tallying four of the last seven points, junior Kaylee Martin led the Redbirds to a 25-13 first set win.
The second set began much like the first, with many lead changes taking place, being so tightly contested that the largest lead was three by the ’Birds. Evansville started to face its way back, going on a 4-1 point run tying up the match at 11, forcing an ISU timeout.
Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Week Melaine Feliciano of the Aces and Martin of the ’Birds were dueling back in forth, kill for kill. Keeping both of their teams in the game, before ISU called another timeout, this time down 15-13.
The timeout was able to energize the ’Birds into tying up the game at 17 apiece. The Aces were able to slow the Redbirds’ momentum, going on a 5-1 run. With no timeouts left in the set, ISU had no response with Evansville red hot, falling in the second set 25-22.
The Aces continued their momentum into the third set, where they began the set on a 7-1 run. The Redbirds tried to cut into the deficit bringing the game with four points, but back-to-back kills by Alondra Vazquez and Hannah Watkins forced the ’Birds into a timeout down 10-4.
The Redbirds’ hopes looked to be diminishing, falling behind by nine points. Freshman Kendee Hilliard subbed in for ISU, looking to turn the tide. Hilliard managed to have three kills before subbing out, bringing the game closer at 16-10. The ’Birds could not make any further strides to combat the Aces’ lead, dropping the third set 25-19.
Home court advantage was starting to set in for the Aces, having two dominant sets back to back, leaving the ’Birds having to win out. The fourth set started with freshman Taylor Lynch having two kills showing that the ’Birds would not be backing down. Before you knew it, Evansville was able to hit two service aces and regain the lead.
It seemed to be becoming the same story as prior sets, with the ’Birds falling behind three, but with two errors by the Aces and a kill by Sydney Holt was able to keep the set close. For the entirety of the set, the two teams remained close in score, only able to capitalize off each other's errors.
Mid to late set, the ’Birds went on a 9-2 run to silence the crowd, rallying back forcing Evansville to take both of their timeouts in the span of the run. Kills by Martin and Holt put the ’Birds two points away from sending this to set five, but Evansville was still pressing.
Shockingly, two errors committed by the Aces were enough to push the match to set five, losing the fourth set 25-21.
Changing things up from previous sets, the ’Birds got out to the early lead in set five, going up 4-1 with Martin attributing two kills to the run. The Aces cut the lead to two but gave up back to back errors resulting in a timeout down 7-4.
The timeout gave Evansville what it needed to go on a run, to even things up at 8-8 as the two teams switched sides on the court. Kills by Holt and Martin looked to give the ’Birds the advantage down the stretch, but the Aces managed to gain two points on errors by the Redbirds. A service ace by Vazquez gave the Aces the lead and forced an ISU timeout.
Neither team was giving in during the late stages of the fifth set, going down to the wire with two kills by Martin to tie the match up at 13-13. Watkins and Rachel Tam of the Aces converted on a key block to put them up one, leaving match point on the brink.
ISU captain Stef Jankiewicz went up for an attack on the ball, but was unable to keep the ball inbounds, resulting in an Aces victory in five sets.
The ’Birds begin their road trip with a close loss, bringing their conference record to 2-1 with an overall record 9-6. Catch the ’Birds back in action at 6 p.m. Friday at Bradley.