Earlier this week, Illinois State University volleyball head coach Leah Johnson noted that when it comes to the second day of two-day doubleheaders, her team’s strategy was going to be just beating its performance from the day before, win or lose, and letting the final score present itself.
That is exactly what the Redbirds Saturday as they upset No. 20-ranked Marquette University in five sets, looking like a different team than they were after Friday’s sweep loss.
Maybe it was whatever they ate Friday night postgame, or whatever Johnson said following the loss, but the Redbirds came out on fire in the first set. They held multiple double-digit leads and took the set 25-13. In the second set, Marquette struck right back. Both teams traded blows until Marquette pulled away for a 25-21 victory.
In the third set Illinois State did exactly as they did in the first, taking advantage of their serves by going on point runs and disrupting Marquette’s offensive rhythm to win 25-17. After Marquette went on to win the fourth set 25-16, it came down to a huge final set to 15 points in order to decide the match.
In the final set, both teams turned it back on. Neither team ever led by more than two, and it all came down to a “win by two” 16-14 Redbird upset victory on a kill by senior Kaylee Martin. That was one of 22 kills on the game for Martin, which led the team.
“We knew we had to make adjustments and engage more point scorers, including our middles and right sides, and they came through on that plan.” Johnson said, “We didn’t need them to carry the burden, but we needed them to score in the right situation and they did. Both Kaylee (Martin) and Sarah (Kushner) are playing six rotations for us, defending the whole backcourt, making stops at the net and are involved in every play. We’re really proud of the competitive fire they’ve been bringing to this team.”
However, no Redbird performance matched that of senior captain Stef Jankiewicz, who had a career-high eight kills and 47 of the teams 56 total assists.
The Redbirds will now head back home to Normal with a record of 1-1 after splitting the series against a tough nonconference opponent in Marquette. They will take on Bradley University on Monday from Redbird Arena to open Missouri Valley Conference play.
“Right now, no matter who we see in conference, we feel like we have a point to prove, and everyone wants to prove that same point against us,” Johnson said. “Our conference is always highly competitive, and we don’t expect anything less than that this year. We respect Bradley, and honestly, we’re just excited to have our first home match.”