The Illinois State volleyball team’s post-season run came to an end in Milwaukee, as they were edged by Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, Nov. 30. It was an offensive war between the Redbirds (25-8) and the Bearcats (26-7), as Illinois State hit .351 and Cincinnati hit over .400. The ‘Birds fought until the very end, as Cincinnati held on for the straight-set win. Newcomers Kaylee Martin and Marissa Stockman led the way for the Redbirds, as Martin registered a career-high 17 kills and Stockman hit at a season-high .750 clip.

“I want to start by saying congratulations to Cincinnati,” head coach Leah Johnson said. “I thought they played a great match. Secondly, I want to say how proud I am of our team. We put a lot of work in this year and we saw three attackers in double-digit kill. Offensively, we hit .351 to their (Cincinnati) .400 – that’s an incredible display of offense. That’s NCAA Tournament volleyball. I am very proud of how these women played, and those in the locker room and I am very proud to be a Redbird.”

Making the program’s 14th overall appearance to the dance and the first in the Johnson-era was just one of many highlights this season for the Redbirds, as they also claimed a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.

“Initially, I want to give kudos to our senior class,” said Johnson. “They really set the bar in the offseason, because success starts before the first whistle blows in August. In January, they accepted the challenge of training in a new style during the offseason, both in the practice gym and in their conditioning, and that’s a championship mentality. You build that mental toughness, you build that comradery, you work your tails off before there’s even a match on the line. That transferred into the season and I thought they did a great job keeping this team focused on our goal in the hardest of matches and in the matches we were supposed to win. Our senior leadership was phenomenal, and that set the tone for the future.”