Kicking off Missouri Valley Conference play last weekend, the Missouri State Bears volleyball team split their two games against the Illinois State Redbirds and the Bradley University Braves.
Their first contest on Friday evening in Normal, Illinois, turned out to be competitive to the very end and historic as well. In the first of five sets, MSU had a four-point lead and led by as much as five with an 18-13 score. The Redbirds would storm all the way back to even the score at 18, but junior outside hitter Manuela Ibarguen helped the Bears take the set as she scored three kills down the stretch.
The second set was even tighter than the first. MSU’s biggest deficit was only one, but Illinois State won the set after taking control once the teams were tied at 22. The home team kept the momentum going in the following sets as they had a hitting percentage of .406 and recorded 16 kills which led to a deciding fifth set. After almost five ties, the Bears would go on a 6-1 run to take a 10-6 lead. ISU’s attempt at a comeback was countered by outside hitter Brooklyn Cink (junior), who scored two kills and a block to make the lead 14-11. ISU would miss their final attempt at an attack for the Bears to take the set and game.
In the process of the victory, veteran outside hitter Amelia Flynn (senior) put up her 44th career double-double with 14 kills and 16 digs. This would stamp her mark in MSU volleyball, as she became one of only seven players in program history to record at least 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs. Flynn would receive help from multiple teammates as Ibarguen got a season-high of 17 kills and freshman middle blocker Maddy Bushnell added eight kills off a .462 hitting percentage as she leads the MVC in the category.
"What a great team win! We had a lot of players contribute at some clutch moments when we needed it," head coach Steven McRoberts said in a MSU release. "We really wanted to come in here and have that winning feeling knowing we will be back in two months for the conference tournament. Congratulations to Amelia on a tremendous career achievement of 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs."
The Renaissance Coliseum in Peoria, Illinois was the location of their Saturday evening matchup against Bradley. The hard-fought contest only went four sets as the Braves would adjust and come back from several ties and lead changes. Morgan Sprague, freshman setter, had a total hitting efficiency of .245% with 15 digs while dishing out 45 assists. Even nine blocks, a season-high 22 digs from freshman defensive specialist Kate Owen and a total of 70 from the team wasn’t enough to contain the Braves’ .312 hitting percentage. Coach McRoberts gave credit to the opponent after the loss and said he believes they can learn and grow from it.
“I will definitely give Bradley credit for closing those two sets (first and third) out and then controlling the fourth set," said McRoberts. "We can take a lot of positives from this weekend as we grow this season."
MSU will continue in-conference play this coming weekend. They return home to face the University of Northern Iowa and Drake both Oct. 8 and 9.
Follow Reginald Lee Jr. on Twitter, @ReginaldLeeJr16
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