The start of the second half of Missouri Valley Conference play means two things: The season is quickly coming to an end, and the fight for the Conference title is in full swing. With two matches against Bradley University and the No. 13-ranked University of Northern Iowa, the Jays looked to take steps forward in the conference race.
On Friday, the Jays were looking to extend their winning streak against Bradley while also looking to end first place UNI’s 29-game conference winning streak on Saturday.
The Jays won in a three-game sweep against Bradley, and they wasted no time jumping out to quick leads in both the first and third games. They continually built bigger leads throughout game one, eventually ending with a 25-12 win.
The second game started with Bradley taking an early lead, but they quickly watched the Jays take the lead for good when the score was tied 5-5, eventually winning 25-19.
Game three was much like the first, with the Jays jumping out to a big lead that the Braves could not overcome, resulting in a 25-11 win to finish the sweep.
“Bradley is a very balanced team, so we had to defend their whole line-up,” said head coach Kirsten Booth in a press release. “We’re excited with the win.”
Offensively, senior outside hitter Alicia Runge’s seven kills led the Jays, while three other players added six, and junior setter Megan Bober added 24 assists. Defensively, freshman libero Julianne Mandolfo led the way with nine digs, and senior outside hitter Allie Oelke added six.
Saturday night, the Jays traveled to the University of Northern Iowa where they were eventually swept – but not without a fight in both the first and second games.
The first game was back and forth, with neither team being able to build a lead bigger than four points. The Jays had a chance to close the game while leading 25-24 after an ace from senior defensive specialist Nayka Benitez. The Panthers showed why they are unbeaten in 29 matches in the Valley by taking the next three points, winning 25-27.
The second game looked identical to the first, with the largest lead being the Panthers’ three-point hold. The Jays took the game to a set point at 24-23 only to see the lead disappear. The Panthers again took the set 25-27.
Game three saw the Jays take an early lead only to watch it evaporate during the middle of the game when the Panthers’ offense took over. The Jays were able to bring the game within two points at 19-21, but the Panthers took the final four points to complete the sweep with a 19-25 win.
“As a coach you try to focus on, ‘did we play well?’” Booth said. “Even though we got swept, you want to walk away disappointed, but I thought we played well.”
The Jays face Indiana State University and Illinois State University at home this weekend. On Friday, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness night, the Jays will wear pink jerseys to support the fight against breast cancer.