With two weekend wins, WSU takes No. 1 MVC spot

The Shocker volleyball team came out determined this weekend from start to finish.

Although it may not have been their most competitive match-up, WSU did not lose focus Friday night against Bradley.

And the momentum continued in a thrilling five-set win over Loyola on Saturday.

With zero lead changes, the Shockers took the first set 25-13 Friday against Bradley. Senior Katie Reilly dominated offensive play with seven kills and a .875 hitting percentage. The Bradley bench talked about fixing the little things, but with half the total kills, the Braves couldn’t keep up.

Jumping with another early lead, WSU took the second set 25-16. Jody Larson led with seven kills while Jenny Whitledge had five digs. The Shockers hit .565 percent while the Braves hit .125.

Without falter, the last set resulted in another Shocker victory. The closest of the three sets, WSU finished 25-21 as Bradley fought to the finish but came up short.

The Shockers experimented with a 6-2 rotation featuring both Emily Hiebert and McKenzie Fyfe, allowing for maximum offensive potential and a more effective defense.

“We’ve had 6-2 on the brain since the spring,” head coach Chris Lamb said. It’s been a work in progress for a while, 5-1 might be right for us, but we’re going to keep building that 6-2 until it becomes right.”

Leading the match was Larson with 13 kills and seven digs.

“Both Emily and McKenzie set me really well tonight and found me on the court, and I took advantage of that,” Larson said.

As conference play advanced, the drive and focus continued as WSU faced Loyola on Saturday night in a battle for the No. 1 spot in the Missouri Valley Conference.

They came out on top after a five-set dogfight, securing the No. 1 ranking.

“It’s always fun to compete in intense games against good teams,” Fyfe said.

In what easily could be pegged as the most thrilling match of the season, the Shockers won by scores of 25-20, 25-17, 20-25, 23-25 and 16-14.

Larson led in the match once again with 15 kills, while Mikaela Raudsepp, Shimen Fayad and Reilly followed close behind. Heibert had 31 assists and Dani Mostrom contributed 21 digs.

In the first set, the Shockers jumped out to an early lead, but the Ramblers tied it at 15. Both teams fought back and fourth for the lead until an ace from Raudsepp put the Shockers at game-point, as they were able to close out the set 25-20.

The Shockers carried this momentum into the second set, winning 25-17.

The third set brought new challenges, and after falling behind early, were defeated 25-20.

The next set was evenly scored for most of play, until the Ramblers went on a late run, and closed out 25-23, taking the match to a fifth deciding game.

“I’ve been around the game long enough to know these things are going to happen,” Lamb said. “You’ve got to keep your head in it and do what you do, and that’s what we did.”

It was all-or-nothing in the final set, as WSU led early, were challenged by Loyola, tied up the set, and then finished the nail-biting contest 16-14 on a kill from Fayad.

“Today Loyola challenged our defense, and I think we just went out and executed really well,” Larson said Saturday.

Grabbing first place, the Shockers take on Illinois State at 6 p.m. Friday in Normal, Illinois.  

“Our coaching staff has been pushing us to the next level because they know how good we can be and how good we want to be,” Reilly said. “The competitive aspect from practice every day has carried over to game play.”