Redbird Volleyball crowned MVC Champions
Written by Jake Fogal on April 3, 2021
Photo courtesy of Illinois State Athletics.
The title ‘back-to-back Missouri Valley Champions’ has a good ring to it. Fans better get used to it as the Illinois State volleyball team will now have that as their new moniker. That new label did not come without adversity, postponements, and empty arenas. The 2021 MVC title will mean something different than any other has before.
“You have adversity every year, but this year is unique.” Johnson said, “I don’t know if I can put into words how hard it was to stay locked in from June, through a modified offseason, and then do it again in the spring. I’ve been so impressed with them, and that to me is what makes this so special,” said head coach Leah Johnson.
A primary difference from the tournament compared to the season was the 650 roaring Redbird fans that occupied Redbird Arena on Saturday. Seemingly unfamiliar, the lively group of supporting spectators gave a boost to the Redbirds that Kaylee Martin called ‘special.’
“I think it is really special [championship]. I can’t really put it into words because there was a lot of heartbreak,” Kaylee Martin said.
“Not being able to come back to campus, then not being able to have a season, and then not being able to have fans. There were a lot of things that kind of stung, so it was great to work through everything and come back to win in front of fans on our home court,” said Martin.
The senior led ISU with 16 kills in 3-1 win over Loyola-Chicago and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Sydney Holt followed Martin’s performance with 14 kills of her own, nine coming in the first two sets. Holt was hitting at over .600 for the majority of the match, before just falling under in set four.
Illinois State made easy work of LUC through two sets, winning both 25-14. The third set is where the Ramblers started coming into form. Taylor Venuto charged her team back into the festivities, and Coach Johnson had nothing but respect for the sophomore.
“She is pretty dynamic. She’s a talented middle. I’d put her right up there with Syd Holt, and I’d say that’s a pretty huge compliment,” Johnson said.
The Ramblers powered through the latter stages of set three, which had ISU leading 17-15 before a timeout was taken. From that point, LUC awoke, and the Redbirds struggled to finish. Revamped, the Ramblers secured their first set win on a 10-3 run.
With hope in their back pocket, a confident Rambler group stayed close with ISU throughout the fourth set, before a 5-0 scoring run secured the Redbirds the chip.
Carrying emotions on their sleeves, potentially graduating after this season, Martin knows she and her teammates left everything they had on the court.
“I do think that we left it all on the court,” Martin said. “We really fought, and there is not a point in our mind where we doubted ourselves.”
The Redbirds now point their focus to Sunday afternoon where the DI Women’s Volleyball Selection Show will be aired on ESPNU at 4 p.m. The first round of the NCAA tournament is scheduled for Wednesday, April 14 in Omaha, Neb.