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NORMAL — Dropping the first set was a mere bump in the road for the Illinois State volleyball team at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Thursday at Redbird Arena.

The third-seeded Redbirds regrouped to capture a 23-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-19 win over No. 6 seed Valparaiso in a tournament quarterfinal.

ISU (21-11) will meet No. 2 seed Northern Iowa in a 7:30 p.m. semifinal match Friday after winning its sixth in a row.

"It went in a lot of ways how we expected," Redbirds coach Leah Johnson said. "We said all week we were going to see the best Valpo we had seen, which was the Valpo we hadn't seen yet. They were fantastic, and I was so pleased with how we stayed in it mentally."

The Crusaders, who bowed out at 17-16, had been 0-12 after losing the first set, but did not have to deal with that that issue Thursday.

Valpo took a 21-18 edge on an Allison Ketchum block and closed out a 25-23 win on a Katherine Carlson kill down the line.

The Redbirds charged back hard in set two, breaking from a 13-13 tie with a 5-0 surge capped by a Jaelyn Keene service ace.

"We came out really hot in set two and then maintained through the rest of the match," said Johnson. "It was good volleyball."

A crosscourt kill from Ella Francis finished off a 25-15 set.

"That first set was really close. We were playing good volleyball, There wasn't an issue with that," said Francis, who was among five Redbird with double digits kills at 13."We had to limit our errors a little bit then come out stronger the second set."

Valpo surged to a 4-0 lead in set three only to watch ISU tie it a 6-6. An Ali Line kill handed the Redbirds a 21-18 margin and a crosscourt kill by Francis sealed the outcome.

ISU again fell behind in the fourth set, this time 5-2. Again, the Redbirds responded by forging a 7-7 tie and assuming a 10-7 advantage on a Stef Jankiewicz ace off the net.

A tip from Line gave ISU a 23-19 lead and a Lexi Wallen ace on the tape was the set winner.

"That's something our team does really well, stay composed and confident no matter what," said ISU junior libero Courtney Pence. "You look into everyone's eyes and you can see the confidence even if we're down. That's something that's really led us to success this season." 

Pence led all players with 32 digs and set the single-season school record in the process. Pence bolstered her digs total to 754, besting the previous record of 732 set by Emily Orrick in 2014.

"That means a lot. I'm trying to stay as consistent as possible, not just get a number of digs but the quality," Pence said. "I'm very thankful we have the blocks we do, and the other defenders have pushed me to be better every day."

Keene registered 14 kills, Sydney Holt 12, Juma Armando 11 and Line 10. Sydney Bronner and Taylor Graboski had 11 apiece for the Crusaders.

Jankiewicz totaled 51 assists as ISU improved to 5-7 when losing the first set.

Indiana State advances: The fifth-seeded Sycamores dispatched No. 4 Drake, 25-23, 30-28, 25-19, in Thursday's first quarterfinal.

Indiana State (11-20) received 11 kills from Laura Gross and 10 from Nikkie White. The Sycamores face top-seeded Missouri State in the semifinals Friday at 5 p.m.

Odessa Cody paced Drake (23-10) with 11 kills.

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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