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NORMAL — A disappointing loss was followed by a rousing response last weekend from Illinois State’s volleyball team. The latter has ISU coach Leah Johnson believing her team is “trending back up again” heading into a stretch of three Missouri Valley Conference matches in four days at Redbird Arena.

The Redbirds (13-5, 5-1) play host to Valparaiso at 6 p.m. Friday, Loyola at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Bradley at 6 p.m. Monday.

After falling in straight sets last Friday at Northern Iowa, ISU won at Drake the next night in four sets. The Redbirds had gone 0-4 against Drake the previous two seasons.

“I was most proud of how our team responded,” Johnson said. “I thought our team had a great spirit about them. We didn’t linger on that loss.”

The 25-19, 25-22, 27-29, 25-20 victory was fueled by sophomore Kaylee Martin, who pounded out a career-high 20 kills and hit a match-high .260. She leads a balanced ISU season stat sheet with 2.67 kills per set.

Senior standout Courtney Pence had 32 digs against Drake and is second all-time in the MVC in career digs with 2,435. Pence contributed to a stellar defensive effort, Johnson said.

“We had 15 blocks and they swung so hard,” the ISU coach said. “I thought it was a great win. We’re continuing to do the things we need to do … we’re beating the teams below us and we need to get a win over someone above us.”

Valparaiso (18-3, 5-1) is tied with ISU for second in the Valley behind Northern Iowa (13-6, 7-0). Johnson pointed out the Crusaders are “higher than us in RPI, so it’s one of those wins we need to get.”

ISU dropped the first two sets to Valparaiso last year at Redbird Arena before rallying to win in five.

“They do not make mistakes. They’re not going to give you any points,” Johnson said. “They play with incredible passion. They’re driven by something internal.”

Loyola is 11-7 overall and 3-3 in the Valley, while Bradley is 14-4 and 4-2.

Former ISU coach Julie Morgan, who is being inducted into the Illinois State Athletics Percy Family Hall of Fame on Saturday, will be honored prior to Friday’s match.

Illinois State football players will be signing autographs prior to the match and volleyball will be followed by Hoopfest, featuring the ISU men’s and women’s basketball teams.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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