Illinois State volleyball continues its impressive start by winning the Oral Roberts Invitational. 

Coming off an impressive start to the season, junior Kaylee Martin was named the invitational’s Most Valuable Player. Martin finished the weekend with a team high 19 kills in Saturday’s finale against Air Force. 

Also continuing their strong starts to the season were Sydney Holt and Kendal Meier, who earned spots on the All-Tournament Team. 

Game 3 | ISU 3 Air Force 2 

In a battle of the birds, the Redbirds and Falcons split the first four sets, leading to a fifth and final showdown. 

Freshman Sarah Kushner delivered her first ace of the match to give ISU a 4-2 lead.  

The ’Birds took off from there and wouldn’t look back, defeating Air Force 15-7 in the final set. 

The perfect weekend for Illinois State didn’t come easy in its final match. 

“Air Force did a great job of changing their offense all match long, forcing us to focus more on the IQ side of the game,” Head coach Leah Johnson said. “It was great to see our team respond and play the chess match back-and-forth.” 

For the second straight season, the Redbirds are off to a hot start with a 5-1 record. Johnson still believes the team can make improvements down the stretch. 

“We want to improve on our first-ball kill. We do well in long rallies, but we want to be more efficient,” Johnson said. “Today was a five-set mental test of will, determination and endurance, and I was pleased to be challenged by a great team in Air Force and have to execute in the most pressure-filled situation.”

Game 2 | ISU 3 ORU 0 

The first set gave the Redbirds their first real test of the day, as the Golden Eagles weren’t going to go down like Little Rock did just a few hours prior. Standing strong on defense had the ’Birds on the ropes early in the set. The ’Birds were able to win the set 25-18, but the score doesn’t do the amount of effort put in justice. Within the first set, there were 10 ties and three lead changes. Late in the set, the ’Birds service aces by Carley Nicholson and Kaylee Martin, pushed them over the edge for the victory. 

The second set once again got off to a tight battle, that saw the Redbirds take the advantage early. Tremendous defensive efforts from Kendal Meier, Stef Jankiewicz and Sydney Holt were the key factor to keeping the lead over Oral Roberts. No comeback was allowed, enabling the Redbirds to take another set 25-18. 

The ’Birds continued their dominant performance throughout the third set, until late where they stumbled, giving up a five-point lead. With the Golden Eagles tying up the set at 24 a piece, this set was going to extras. Senior Monica Miller stood out throughout the third set, and eventually clinched the match for the ’Birds with a devastating kill. 

After the game, Johnson had some comments on Oral Roberts’ defense. 

"I think that Oral Roberts set the tone defensively, and we had to meet them with their level of intensity. Their crowd was fantastic, and I love that we got battle tested in extra points and key serving situations. These are opportunities that we can learn from and grow. Overall, we were very steady defensively with no reception errors." 

Many players stood out in the match against Oral Roberts, most significantly Kendal Meier. Meier led her team in both digs, 16, and aces, two. “I was very pleased with the poise that Kendal (Meier) showed. Her serve-receive was exceptional and we trusted our side-out game immensely," Johnson said. 

With another sweep for the day, the Redbirds move to 4-1 on the season. 

Game 1 | ISU 3, ORU 0 

After a successful outing last weekend, the Redbirds looked to continue their momentum against the Little Rock Trojans in the Oral Roberts Invitational. 

The ’Birds got off to the hot start, starting out with a 13-6 lead. Little Rock struggled to compete, with multiple errors keeping them down early in the first set. 

After a service ace by Carley Nicholson, the Trojans could not make up the deficit, losing the first set 25-13. 

The second set was more along the same narrative, except that Little Rock got out to a 6-3 lead. The story of the match though was the service aces for the Redbirds. Recording two consecutive service aces to come back in the set. The ’Birds managed to get in a groove and finished off the second set winning 25-17.  

The ’Birds made quick work of the Trojans in the third set, winning 25-13 and securing the sweep for the series. 

Johnson had this to say after the match, “As a team, we feel that on both sides of the ball we can win the serve and pass game. If we are successful at that, we can be in control of the match.” No doubt about it that the ’Birds controlled the match in their first game of the day.  

Johnson was very pleased with Allie Otten, as she played in her first collegiate game of her career, having a successful first outing serving the ball. 

Sarah Kushner also had a strong showing, leading the team in kills with 13, and finishing behind Carley Nicholson in aces with six. 

Up next for Illinois State is a much-anticipated home debut as they host the Redbird Classic in the newly renovated Redbird Arena. 

ALFONSO CERNA is a Sports Reporter Reporter for The Vidette. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @acerna_0

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