Butler swept through their competition in the Windy City this weekend, defeating Chicago State, 3-0, and UIC, 3-1, to run their winning streak to eight matches.
The win over the Flames (12-14, 7-7 HL) keeps the Bulldogs (17-7, 11-1 HL) in a tie for first place in the Horizon League with the UW-Milwaukee Panthers, who they will face this week, along with Green Bay.
Head coach Sharon Clark said she believes there are two important factors that separate this year’s squad from Butler teams of previous years.
“Number one, this is the first year that we’ve been healthy,” Clark said. “Second, this team is mentally tougher than previous teams.”
Another thing separating this year’s Bulldogs from past squads has been their dominating defense.
Butler held the Cougars (0-28) to a .081 hitting percentage during their 3-0 sweep. The team also collected 11 team blocks and 61 team digs against UIC.
The Bulldogs have prided themselves on their defense all year, and it has continued to pay off in Horizon League play.
“Defense is a key part of our game,” senior Maureen Bamiro said. “Volleyball is the epitome of a team sport.
“We go out there believing that every ball is playable and that we can dig any ball.”
The Bulldogs have also been able to turn their defensive stops into offensive attacks.
Butler hit .425 as a team against Chicago State and racked up 61 team kills against UIC.
Senior Jessica Wolfe led the team in kills on both nights with 15 against the Cougars 22 versus the Flames.
“Jessie was unbelievable in the match against UIC,” Clark said. “All year she’s been stepping up as a captain and senior leader.”
Butler started off its match against Chicago State nearly perfect, winning game one, 25-11, while hitting .519 as a team and committing no errors.
The Bulldogs continued to roll through the Cougars, winning games two and three by 11 and 13 point margins, respectively, and sweeping the match, 3-0.
Saturday, Butler headed back into conference play with their final road match of the regular season at UIC.
The match marked the first time UIC had played on their home court at the Flames Athletic Center since it was flooded earlier this year.
UIC started the match with intensity and managed to win the first game, 25-20. But after the Bulldogs settled down in game two, they began to control the match.
They won the second game, 25-23, but the Bulldogs dropped the first point of the third game.
However, after one of Wolfe’s kills tied the game, Butler would not be behind for the rest of the match.
The Bulldogs won the third and fourth games, 25-21, and won the match, 3-1.
“UIC was very tough,” Bamiro said. “The toughest games always come from the teams that you least expect them to.
“We just have to stay focused, take it one game at a time and play together as a team.”
Clark reiterated that the team focused on one game at a time, even though some of the season’s toughest tests are coming in the next two weeks—when UW-Milwaukee and Cleveland State come to Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“We’re always preparing for all of the games,” Clark said. “The team focus is on the game at hand and we’ve done a good job on that so far.”
The next opponent for the Bulldogs will be Green Bay, who comes to Hinkle Friday at 7 p.m.
Butler will play at home again Saturday at 4 p.m. against Milwaukee in a match that will likely determine the Horizon League regular season champion.
If the Bulldogs do secure the regular season title, they will host the six-team league tournament. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Securing home-court advantage is important for the Bulldogs, who have lost only one match and no conference games at home since 2008.
“I can’t even express how important [home-court advantage] is,” Bamiro said. “Our fans have been with us since day one.
“To have the privilege to play here and defend our home-court would be great.”