The Illinois State Univesity Redbirds (12-7, 5-2) hosted the Valparaiso Crusaders (8-13, 3-4), and while the ’Birds are on a four-game win streak after fending off the top two teams in the conference, everyone present knew a battle was in store against the Crusaders.
Most would have thought with the momentum that ISU was bringing into this game, VALPO would be in for quite the uphill battle. Instead, the sloppy play was the showcase throughout the first set by both teams.
Getting the start in place of Stef Jankiewicz, freshman Allie Otten stepped in and made a difference early. Right off the bat, she had a kill to give the ’Birds an early advantage.
A series of errors by both teams caused a back and forth set, until Jillie Grant and Ally Cummings gave the Crusaders a two-point lead before ISU called a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the story remained the same as sloppy play ruled throughout. Through the next 11 plays, seven of the outcomes resulted in errors committed by one of the teams.
Three consecutive errors forced VALPO into a timeout. Kaylee Martin started to change the pace with two consecutive kills, but an unimaginable three straight service errors gave ISU a two-point advantage. Taylor Lynch was able to finish off the first set with back-to-back kills to win the first set for the ’Birds, 25-23.
Throughout the entirety of the first set, a combined 25 errors were committed by each team. Head coach Leah Johnson takes a cautious approach with the small issues on the court.
Service errors by both teams began the second set action, but both teams picked it up as the set moved along. Throughout the first 11 points in the set, six ties occurred. The Crusaders were the first team to take over and equip a substantial lead of six mid-way through the set. The Redbirds were able to find their stride and put together three points, resulting in a VALPO timeout.
Capitalizing on a service ace by Sarah Kushner, as well as two errors committed by the Crusaders allowed the ’Birds to tie up the match at 16 apiece. In a series of four points, the Redbirds were having their way with Valparaiso. Four separate players each had a kill in the four-point stretch, showing ISU’s ability to be unpredictable and move the ball around. Yet another service ace by Kushner and three consecutive errors by the Crusaders pushed the ’Birds to a second set victory, 25-21.
ISU was able to get off to a hot start in the third set, with both Martin and Emmy Ogogor making plays to energize the team. VALPO though was able to go on a run, exclusively from Peyton McCarthy going for a kill and a service ace tying the set at 9-9.
Continuing her success, Martin turned the tide with back-to-back kills to give ISU back the lead. Neither team able to take advantage, a media timeout was called with the ’Birds in front by one.
Back from the break, Ogogor destroyed the ball into one of VALPO player's chest knocking her to the floor, sending a message indeed that the ’Birds were looking to finish this early.
The Crusaders stayed persistent in its attempt to take the lead, staying within three points of the Redbirds throughout the entirety of the third set. A timeout by VALPO swayed the momentum away from ISU, sending the Crusaders on a 6-2 point run to take the third set, 26-24.
With the crowd stunned, Valparaiso continued their dominant finish into the fourth set with a commanding 8-3 lead forcing ISU into an early timeout. The Redbirds came out of the timeout on fire, as they were able to deplete the deficit and tie up the match at 12 with a 9-4 run.
The tandem of Martin and Ogogor once again went a four-point run that consisted of two kills from Ogogor and two aces from Martin.
With all the momentum shifted to the ’Birds and with home-court firmly pushing them forward the ’Birds were able to gain points off errors by the Crusaders and an eventual kill by Martin iced the set giving the Redbirds a 3-1 match victory over VALPO.
THAT'S A WINNER!!! Illinois State seals the fourth set, 25-19, on a kill from @kayleemartin_! The Redbirds will be back in action next weekend at Southern Illinois and Missouri State.#BackTheBirds pic.twitter.com/BD8F3JUI8C— Illinois State Volleyball (@RedbirdVB) October 20, 2019
With Kendal Meier and Jankiewicz currently sidelined with undisclosed injuries, the ’Birds have lacked leadership at times when they are on the court. That showed with sloppy plays present in tonight’s win over Valparaiso.
“I would say Syd Holt has been a pretty dominant force out there, Kaylee Martin has produced points. There was one point in the match, I said, ‘Kaylee I want you to celebrate like its championship game every point.’ Then she started to do that and the energy in the gym just changed in set four. So, it's those little situations, I think everyone led at different times," Johnson said.
"I thought Sarah Kushner from the backcourt led, Kaity (Weimerskirch) moving the serve receive around led in her role. For us, it was about each person leading in their responsibilities, and I think we did that pretty well."
With two leaders injured, it allows for many of the young players on the team to step up into a leadership role. making the team better and stronger for later on in the season. With, at times, five freshmen on the floor, each play is a learning opportunity.
With their fourth straight win, ISU (13-7, 6-2) looks to continue its hot streak Oct. 25 when it takes on Southern Illinois (10-11, 2-6) in their second matchup of the season. First serve will be hit at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 in Carbondale.