THIS WEEK: Oral Roberts at Valpo, Friday at 7:00 p.m. & Centenary at Valpo, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
ON THE AIR: Both matches this weekend will be broadcast live on 95.1 FM, WVUR, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Eric Brooks and Mike Haase will call every point Friday with Maggie Foley joining Brooks for Saturday's match.
THE MATCHUPS: The most anticipated home match of the 2006 season is set for Friday at 7:00 p.m. against Oral Roberts. The Crusaders have won three straight conference titles, defeating the Golden Eagles in each of the last three conference championship matches. This year, Oral Roberts was picked to win the Mid-Con over a new-look Valpo team that lost five starters. Fellow Mid-Con foe Centenary caps Valpo's Homecoming Weekend with a Saturday night meeting at 7:00 p.m.
VALPO LAST WEEK: The Brown and Gold opened the home season with a pair of impressive wins last week. Tuesday night, Valpo downed DePaul 3-1, beating the Big East's Blue Demons for the second time this season on the strength of a big night from freshman Angie Porch√©. Friday, the Crusaders kicked off Mid-Con play against Oakland with a 3-0 win, their 12th in a row over the Golden Grizzlies. Jessie Fox led a potent Valpo attack that hit .520 in game one and .417 in game three.
SCOUTING ORAL ROBERTS: The highly-touted Golden Eagles have not disappointed so far in the 2006 season, racing out to an 11-6 record despite a shaky start. After opening the year 1-5 (and 2-6), Oral Roberts has won nine matches in a row, the last six all at home. Ori Zuzic, the 2005 Mid-Con Player of the Year, is again leading the Golden Eagles with an impressive 5.05 kills/game average. Zuzic has also had a big year defensively with 180 digs (2.95/game) and is hitting a solid .248. Head Coach Sheera Sirola not only returns Zuzic, but also every other starter from last year's 22-11 team. The Golden Eagles are the only Mid-Con team to beat the Crusaders since the start of the 2004 season, but trail the all-time series 12-10 and have not won at Valpo since 2000.
SCOUTING CENTENARY: The Ladies are a Mid-Con program on the rise, one year removed from their first-ever Mid-Con win. Centenary won seven times in the non-conference season, fewer than only Valpo and Oral Roberts, and took a game from IUPUI in their first conference match of the year. The Ladies are 7-12 overall, but have struggled away from Shreveport, going just 2-9 in road and neutral site matches. Danielle Bochat, the reigning Mid-Con Defensive Player of the Week, is actually Centenary's top offensive player, averaging 2.66 kills/game. Bochat set a program record with 32 digs against IUPUI last week, and is second on the team with a 3.44 dig/game average. The Ladies have never even taken a game from Valpo, trailing 6-0 all-time.
WE'RE GOING STREAKING: When the Crusaders meet the Golden Eagles Friday night they'll have a pair of impressive winning streaks intact. Valpo has won six matches in a row, their longest of the season, marking the eighth time since the start of the 2003 season the Crusaders have had a winning streak of at least six matches. Carin Avery's crew also has a chance to continue their 25-match home court winning streak. The Brown and Gold went undefeated at the Athletics-Recreation Center last season, and have not lost on their home floor since September 1, 2004 against Michigan, the opening match of the 2004 season. The Crusaders are also on a nice Mid-Con streak, having won 17 straight over conference opponents at the ARC and all since 2003. Valpo is 41-2 against the Mid-Con overall since 2003.
ACCURATE ATTACK: Valpo's visit to North Carolina two weeks ago has sparked the Crusader offense in a big way, and suddenly the Brown and Gold are a potent attacking team. In the five matches since the start of the Catamount Clash V Tournament, Valpo is hitting .302 and averaging 15.69 kills/game. In their last match, Friday against Oakland, the Crusaders set a new season standard for hitting percentage, carding a .381 mark with only 13 errors in the win.
MILESTONE MARKER: Friday's match is a milestone of sorts for Crusader Head Coach Carin Avery, who will take the court as the Valpo mentor for the 150th time. And in the first 149 matches of her tenure at Valpo, few coaches nationwide have done more winning. Avery's 113 wins give her a .758 winning percentage, which would rank 13th among all active coaches after this season (a coach needs a minimum of five seasons as a head coach to qualify for the list).
¬?A' NOT JUST FOR EFFORT: The Crusader players also earn a lot of A's in the classroom. For the third straight year, Valpo was honored with the American Volleyball Coaches Association's Team Academic Award this summer. The 2005-06 team earned a cumulative GPA of over 3.30 to merit the honor. Before Friday's match, Director of Athletics Mark LaBarbera will present the team with their award.
QUICKLY: ORU and Valpo have combined to win the last 12 Mid-Con titles.
FOX IS HUNTING: A Second Team All-Conference star her sophomore and junior years, Jessie Fox started the 2006 a little slowly, helping work her new teammates into the Crusader system. But if the senior showed anything last weekend, it's that she's still a force to be reckoned with both offensively and defensively. Fox combined for 27 kills and eight blocks over the two matches, hitting .442 in the process. The Granger, Ind. native had 15 kills and a season-high seven blocks Tuesday against DePaul and came back Friday with 12 kills on 21 attacks without making an error. By the end of the season, Fox should join 2005 senior Lauren Moulton as the only Crusaders with over 1,000 career kills and 400 blocks (Fox has 856 kills and 358 blocks).
ANGIE IN ACTION: Breakout freshman Angie Porch√© welcomed herself to the Athletics-Recreation Center in style Tuesday, blasting the Blue Demons with 19 kills, four aces, five digs and three blocks, all career highs. The 2005 Northwest Indiana Times Player of the Year, Porch√© is second in the Mid-Con in kills/game, averaging 3.52. Her 176 overall kills are tops on the Crusaders, and she sits second on the team with 17 aces and fourth with 21 blocks. Porch√© is trying to become the first Crusader since Lauren Struss in 1992 to lead the Brown and Gold in kills, and is on pace for over 400 kills this season, something only four Valpo players, regardless of class, have ever done.
NO FLUKE HERE: There has been no better story on this year's squad than that of little-used middle/right side Nicole Schulz. The junior played in only 28 games during her first two years but has so far been one of Valpo's most valuable players in 2006. Schulz was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Catamount Clash and followed that up with a pair of strong nights last week. The Wisconsin native hit .348 and had 11 kills and six blocks against DePaul, then posted a .353 hitting percentage, eight kills and four blocks against Oakland. Schulz leads Valpo in attack percentage and blocks this year.
HUGHES THAT?: Crusader fans familiar with seeing two-time Mid-Con Setter of the Year Katie Bova on the court had better start getting used to Valpo's new setter, Sara Hughes. Bova's understudy for two seasons, Hughes is second in the Mid-Con this year with a 10.63 assist/game average and has made the transition from Bova as painless as possible. Earlier this season, Hughes cracked into the Valpo record book with 69 assists, fifth all-time in a five-game match, Sept. 2 against Idaho at Notre Dame's Shamrock Invitational.
¬?VAL'UABLE TIME: Freshman Val Bollenbacher has begun to assert herself as a collegiate player, breaking into the Crusader rotation and beginning to prove her worth with some strong performances. Bollenbacher had 20 kills at the three-match Catamount Clash two weeks ago and was strong at home last weekend with nine kills, three aces, 14 digs and six blocks in Valpo's two wins. Bollenbacher set a career-high with five blocks Tuesday and hit a perfect 1.000 (3-0-3) against Oakland Friday. Bollenbacher is also currently second on the team and fifth in the Mid-Con in aces/game (0.37).
MARKS 5.0: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks quietly continues to do her job as well as anyone along the Valpo backline, leading the team with 275 digs (5.19/game). Marks' average is third in the conference, and has her on pace for the best season, statistically, ever for a back row player. No Crusader has ever averaged 5.00 digs/game or more, and Marks is on pace for over 640 digs, easily better than Sara Silcox's 2004 single-season record of 602.
DON'T FORGET ME: Marks' high school teammate, Allison Sears has also enjoyed a very solid sophomore season, ranking third on the Brown and Gold in both kills and blocks. Sears has struggled a bit lately, but did still manage to come up with 11 kills against Oakland on Friday when she had a remarkable first game. The sophomore had seven kills on seven attacks, obviously without an error, leading a Valpo offense that hit .520 in the game.