THIS WEEK: DePaul at Valpo, Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. & Oakland at Valpo, Friday at 7:00 p.m.
ON THE AIR: Both matches this week will be broadcast live on 95.1 FM, WVUR, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Mike Haase and Adam Amin will call every point of Tuesday's match live from the Athletics-Recreation Center.
THE MATCHUPS: After 13 matches and nearly a full month on the road, the Crusaders are back at home this week with to take on DePaul and then open the Mid-Continent Conference season against Oakland. The Crusaders and Blue Demons have already met once this year, with the Brown and Gold winning 3-0 at the season-opening Chicagoland Classic back on August 26.
VALPO LAST WEEK: The Crusaders won their second tournament of the season, coasting past High Point, Kennesaw State and Western Carolina without dropping a game to capture the Catamount Clash V Tournament title. Valpo shared tournament title honors with Kent State, who also went 3-0. The Golden Flashes and Crusaders did not meet during the two-day tournament in Cullowhee, N.C. The Brown and Gold have now won four straight matches for the first time all season and have equaled their high-water mark at three games over .500.
SCOUTING DEPAUL: Under first year head coach Amy Kleyweg, the Blue Demons have begun the rebuilding process after a rocky first season in the Big East Conference. The 2005 DePaul squad won only four matches, going 4-23, and finished 1-13 in the league, 14th out of 15 teams. This season, the Blue Demons already have four wins, including a pair at the Memphis Invitational last weekend, sitting at 4-9 through 13 matches. Senior Morgan Ingersoll leads DePaul on the offensive end with 183 kills, with junior Stacy Pando (28 blocks) and senior Ellen Hayes (192 digs) pacing the defense. All-time, Valpo and DePaul have met 28 times, with the Blue Demons winning 18 of those matchups. But Valpo has won the last four dating back to 2000.
SCOUTING OAKLAND: The Oakland Golden Grizzlies may not miss the Crusaders when they leave the Mid-Continent Conference following this season. Valpo has won 13 of 16 all-time matchups between the two clubs, and are on an 11-match winning streak in the series. Carin Avery has never lost to an Oakland team, and the Golden Grizzlies have won only once at the Athletics-Recreation Center, winning the first ever matchup between the two in 1998. As for this season, Oakland is 0-11 through the early non-conference schedule, and comes into Friday's match having won only four games all season, and only one in their last eight matches. Junior transfer Monica Frenchen is leading the team in hitting percentage (.104) and blocks/game (1.03).
THE BEGINNING OF THE END: The Crusaders' dominant three-year run in the Mid-Continent Conference will come to an end following the 2006 season, one way or another. With Valpo's impending move the Horizon League in 2007 looming, the Brown and Gold are making a run at their fourth consecutive Mid-Con regular season and tournament crown, beginning the conference portion of their schedule with Friday's match against Oakland. Not only have the Crusaders won the three straight titles, they've also been dominant, going 40-2 over the last three years in league play, a run that includes a 23-match winning streak snapped last October. The 2004 Valpo squad was a perfect 14-0 in the Mid-Con, and the Brown and Gold's only two losses are to IUPUI at home in 2003 and at Oral Roberts last year.
HOT AT HOME: While the Crusaders have been winning in conference in the last three years, they've also been very tough to beat at home. Valpo is 34-3 over the last three years at the Athletics-Recreation Center, and the Brown and Gold have won 23 straight at home since the start of 2004, including a perfect 13-0 record in 2005. Valpo's last loss on their home court came to Michigan, 3-0 on September 1, 2004 in the Crusaders' first match of the 2004 season.
WE'RE GOING STREAKING: And there's one more streak intact for Valpo this weekend, a four-match winning streak overall, the Crusaders' longest of the season. The Brown and Gold have had some long winning streaks in their recent history, including three winning streaks of at least six matches last year. In 2004, the Brown and Gold won 14 matches in a row from September 17 through October 24, easily the longest winning streak in program history.
CAN'T MISS: The Brown and Gold won last weekend's Catamount Clash Tournament for one big reason; they couldn't miss the court. In three matches, the Crusaders hit a blistering .297 and made only 48 errors on 320 attacks. Valpo hit over .300 in two different matches and over .370 in four different games. The Crusaders also did the job defensively, holding their three opponents to just a .010 percentage.
QUICKLY: Carin Avery is 4-6 all-time against the Big East Conference.
SCHULZ IS SIZZLING: Leading Valpo's offensive charge over the weekend was emerging junior Nicole Schulz. In Friday's match against High Point, Schulz had one of the best matches this season by any Crusader, picking up 14 kills on 21 attacks, and making only one error for a .619 hitting percentage, the best attacking mark for any Valpo player this year. The junior also chipped in five blocks in the match (two solos) and hit an even .500 the next morning against host Western Carolina (10 kills, one error, 18 attacks). During the tournament Schulz was phenomenal, hitting .500 with a team-high 31 kills with only four errors. Schulz added nine blocks and was named to the All-Tournament Team, the first such honor of her career.
BLOCKS LIKE A FOX: One of two Valpo seniors, Jessie Fox led all Crusaders with 13 blocks at last weekend's Catamount Clash. The Granger, Ind. native matched a career-high with three solo blocks in the tournament's first match against High Point. Fox totalled 29 kills and had four-plus blocks in every match, and is now tied for the team lead with 45 blocks on the season. For her efforts at the Catamount Clash, Fox was named to the All-Tournament Team. The senior has also compiled some impressive career totals (829 kills and 350 blocks) and is on pace to join 2005 senior Lauren Moulton as the only Crusaders to ever finish a career with 1,000 kills and 400 blocks.
RIGHT ON THE MARKS: The Crusaders' only other returning starter from last season (along with Fox), libero Brittany Marks is improving this year on her strong freshman campaign. Marks in comfortably leading the Brown and Gold with 241 digs (5.24/game), and her digs/game average is third best in the Mid-Continent Conference. Earlier this season, September 9 at Drake, Marks etched her name into the Crusader record book when she racked up 30 digs in Valpo's three-game victory over the Bulldogs. Her total broke Karen Kulick's nearly 16-year-old three-game single match record of 29.
FRESHMAN ON FIRE: Freshman sensation Angie Porché finally cooled off a bit last weekend at the Catamount Clash, but is still putting up numbers unprecedented for a Crusader rookie. Porché had recorded double-digit kills in nine of the season's first 10 matches, but did not reach double figures at all during last weekend. The Lynwood, Ill. native still ranks second on the team in kills with only 148, just one behind teammate Allison Sears.
THE NEXT BIG THING: Where Porché's numbers lacked at the Catamount Clash, classmate Val Bollenbacher picked up the slack with a career weekend. Bollenbacher, who had 13 kills in the first 10 matches of the year, had 20 at the two-day tournament including a career-high 10 kills against Kennesaw State. Bollenbacher's 10 kills also were a team-high, the first time in the freshman's career she led the team in kills during a match, and Bollenbacher also set career-highs during the weekend in attacks, digs and blocks. In limited action (21 games) this year, the freshman is fourth on the team in aces and solo blocks, and fifth on the club in kills/game (1.57/game).
SEARS STAYS SHARP: Now the Crusaders' leader in kills, sophomore Allison Sears is just another Valpo player having a breakout season. After playing limited time during her freshman season coming off an injury, Sears had a big weekend at the Catamount Clash with a team-high 31 kills. The Elkhart, Ind. native had the biggest single match of the tournament for the Brown and Gold, picking up 17 kills on only 34 attacks at Western Carolina.
HERE COMES KIM: Another Valpo freshman launched herself onto the scene last weekend, as Kim Bukowski played six of nine games at the Catamount Clash. For the first time all season on Friday against High Point, Sara Hughes did not lead the team in assists, as Bukowski took that honor with 23 helpers, also a career-high. Bukowski played three more games at Western Carolina Saturday, racking up 15 assists and a career-best seven digs.