THIS WEEK: Valpo vs. #6 Santa Clara at Notre Dame, Ind. (Friday, 11:00 a.m.) & Valpo at Shamrock Invitational in Notre Dame, Ind. (at #21 Notre Dame, Friday, 6:00 p.m., vs. #13 Missouri, Saturday, 9:00 a.m., vs. Idaho, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.)
ON THE AIR: All four of this weekend's matches will be carried live on 95.1 FM, WVUR, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Mike Haase and Eric Brooks will voice all of the action from Notre Dame, Ind.
SHAMROCK INVITATIONAL: One of the nation's premier in-season tournaments, this is the 12th edition of the Shamrock Invitational. The tournament has been held every September since 1993, except in 1994 and 2004. The Fighting Irish have been tough to beat at their event, going 27-4 all-time, including winning eight tournament championships. This is the first time a Valparaiso volleyball team has competed in the event.
VALPO LAST WEEK: The retooled Valpo volleyball team opened the season right where they left off, winning three straight matches and capturing the Chicagoland Classic title. The Brown and Gold dumped host UIC 3-1 on Friday night before cruising past DePaul 3-0 Saturday morning and wrapping up the weekend with a 3-2 win that night against Loyola (Chicago). The tournament win was Valpo's seventh since the start of the 2003 season. Jessie Fox led a well-balanced Crusader offense and was named the tournament's MVP.
SCOUTING #6 SANTA CLARA: The Broncos and Crusaders will meet Friday morning, but not as part of the Shamrock Invitational. Santa Clara is in town to take on Notre Dame Sunday, and will meet Valpo for the first time ever Friday at 11:00 a.m. The Broncos were in the Final Four of last season's NCAA Tournament, only falling to the top-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers.
SCOUTING #21 NOTRE DAME: The longest-standing rival in Valpo volleyball history, the Crusaders and Fighting Irish have met 23 times since 1979. The Brown and Gold, however, have won only once since 1980, shocking Notre Dame 3-2 in 2004 at the Joyce Center en route to a record-breaking 29-win season. The 2005 Irish won 30 matches and reached the Sweet 16.
SCOUTING #13 MISSOURI: A perennial contender in the powerhouse Big 12 conference, Missouri enters the weekend at 3-1 and in search of a first ever win over the Crusaders. Valpo won the only previous matchup between the two, dropping the Tigers 3-2 in September of 1993. Last season's Missouri team joined Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
SCOUTING IDAHO: The Vandals, along with Valpo the only un-ranked team in tournament, have gotten off to a rocky start in 2006. Idaho won only one game in dropping three straight matches to Arkansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma at the Sooners' season-opening tournament. The only time these two clubs have met in was in 1994 when the Vandals beat Valpo 3-0.
HISTORY REPEATING?: In 2004, the Crusaders rolled into Notre Dame, Ind. on a three-match winning streak, winning the Ball State Classic with a perfect 3-0 record. That season, the Brown and Gold beat the Fighting Irish in their own gym, setting the stage for a Mid-Con title. Probably the signature win in the Carin Avery era, the Crusaders will have three cracks at a signature win this weekend, looking to defeat a ranked team for the first time in Avery's five-year run as head coach. Valpo came awfully close to a win over a ranked team last season at the monster InnTowner Invitational in Madison, Wis. On September 16th in Madison, the Crusaders took games two and three to send #11 UCLA to the brink before the Bruins bounced back to win in five.
QUICK STARTERS: In each of the previous four seasons, the Crusaders have come flying out of the gate, including a blistering 8-1 start last year. In 2002, Valpo began the year 8-3, then started 8-0 in 2003 and 6-2 in 2004. The last time a Crusader team was under .500 after at least three matches was 2001 when the Brown and Gold began the year 0-8 before rebounding to win 10 times in the Mid-Con.
FANTASTIC FOUR: Jessie Fox, the Most Valuable Player of the Chicagoland Classic had plenty of company from her friends on the All-Tournament team. Angie Porché, a freshman, began her career with a stellar weekend and placed on the All-Tournament team along with sophomores Allison Sears and Brittany Marks. For Fox, it was the second tournament MVP honor of her career, while Marks, Sears and Porché all earned All-Tournament honors for the first time.
NEW FACES, SAME PLACES: The Crusaders faced a big offseason challenge, replacing starters Katie Bova, Liz Mikos, Lauren Moulton, Jessi Novak and Amy Palash. So far, however, the subs have stepped right in and kept the winning going. Sears, Porché, Nicole Schulz, and Tiffany Meikle have assumed much bigger roles, and Fox, a two-year starter, has become Valpo's go-to option on the court.
QUICKLY: Valpo has won two in-season tournaments each of the last two seasons ... the matchup with Santa Clara marks the first time the Crusaders will meet a team from the West Coast Conference.
STEADY LIKE A FOX: Senior Jessie Fox, a major factor on each of the last two Mid-Con Championship teams, is off to a hot start in 2006 and has already made some noise in the history books. Fox picked up a pair of solo blocks over the weekend and has moved into 10th on the Crusaders' career solo blocks list. A two-time All-Conference honoree, Fox has also made a habit of seeing the floor with workmanlike regularity. The senior has appeared in 248 of the last 254 Valpo games and in every match since the beginning of 2004, and if she continues on her current pace will become only the 10th Crusader ever with 1,000 career kills (she has 750 entering the weekend).
WHO IS THIS GIRL?: Nicole Schulz, who watched Liz Mikos and Lauren Moulton dominate at the net during her first two seasons is now in the starting lineup and has made the most of her opportunity. The junior set career highs in kills, attacks, assists, digs and blocks over the weekend, including an impressive 15-kill, six-block night against Loyola (Chicago) on Saturday. Schulz's 34 kills in the first three matches of the season are one shy of her career total entering the year, and her 73 attacks are only 11 short of her total from the first two seasons. After three matches, the Wisconsin native is fourth on the team in kills, second in hitting percentage (.288) and second in blocks (11).
GETTING HIGH MARKS: One of only two returning starters, freshman libero Brittany Marks not only was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Chicagoland Classic, she also picked up Mid-Continent Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in her career. Marks set a career-high with 26 digs in Valpo's tournament-clinching win over Loyola (Chicago) on Saturday after 18 and 19-dig efforts in the first two matches. Not to be outdone, Fox, also added some Mid-Con hardware to her collection, taking home the conference's Offensive Player of the Week honors and giving the Brown and Gold a clean sweep of the league awards.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW: Angie Porché, the 2005 Northwest Indiana Times Player of the Year as a prep has wasted no time asserting herself as a collegian. The 5'9" Porché overcomes her lack of height with tremendous athleticism and power, and opened her career with 14 kills against UIC on Friday night. The freshman came back one night later against Loyola to lead the Brown and Gold in kills with 15, hitting a robust .353 in the process.
NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP HERE: Marks' high school teammate, middle blocker Allison Sears, is healthy for the first time in her college career this season and has busted out after a quiet freshman year. The 6'0" Sears suffered an ACL tear before arriving at Valpo last fall and appeared in only nine matches while recovering from the injury. In the starting lineup as a sophomore, Sears has shined with 35 kills and a team-high 13 blocks through the first three matches. The sophomore has already surpassed her freshman totals in nearly every category, and capped the Chicagoland Classic with a big match, racking up 13 kills and a match-best seven blocks (one solo).
SARA THE SETTER: Much like her classmate Schulz, Sara Hughes backed up an All-Conference star each of the last two seasons, watching mostly from the bench as Katie Bova earned back-to-back Mid-Con Setter of the Year awards. Now the starter, Hughes enjoyed a career weekend in Chicago by picking up 50-plus assists twice, more than doubling her previous career-high. The daughter of San Antonio Silver Stars Head Coach Dan Hughes, Sara had 126 assists in the opening tournament, averaging 11.45/game.
NO MEIK SERVE: One of the stars of the 2005 Mid-Con Tournament, Tiffany Meikle had a monster night behind the service line in the season-opener against UIC. The junior racked up five aces, matching her career total coming in, including one to close out the back-and-forth third game at 35-33.