Valparaiso closed out play Saturday at the Western New York Invitational with two victories. The Crusaders earned a tight five-game win (30-32, 30-27, 30-26, 22-30, 15-13) over Binghamton in the morning before cruising to a sweep (30-13, 30-14, 30-16) against St. Francis (N.Y.) in the afternoon.
The Brown and Gold matched a school record against the Terriers of St. Francis for service aces in a three-game match, tallying 16 aces. Valpo had previously registered 16 aces in a sweep of Chicago State in 1991. Freshman Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma), making her first career collegiate start, registered seven aces on her own, second-best in a three-game match in Crusader history and tied for third-best in any length match.
The match against Binghamton was highlighted by a career performance from sophomore Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen), who shattered her previous career highs with 26 kills and 49 attacks and also matched her career-best with 18 digs. Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) also broke her previous career high in the kills category with 14 kills.
"We were fortunate to come out of here today with a 2-0 record,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “Just like last weekend, this was another learning experience for us, and we saw things that we still have to work on to get better as a team.”
The Binghamton match was a tight one throughout, as the two teams ended the match separated by just one point. The Crusaders dropped a tight game one, hitting just .075 in the opener, but rebounded to win the next two games. The fourth game was a different story, as Valpo hit just .047 to Binghamton’s .361 hitting. But in the deciding game, Valpo swung at a .231 clip and registered 11 kills out of its 15 points to win the match.
“It was nice to be pushed to five games this early in the season,” said Avery. “As a coach, you always like to see how your team will respond to the situation, and I think we responded very well. Val has had a great preseason for us, playing at a very high level, and it was fun to see her play at that level today against Binghamton. Without her play, the match could have easily swung the other way.”
The match against St. Francis was the complete opposite, as the Crusaders cruised to victory in all three games. Valpo swung at a .329 clip for the match and held the Terriers to a -.055 hitting percentage. In addition to her seven aces, Balsis tallied 11 kills on .450 hitting and recorded five digs in the first significant playing time of her career.
Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) stood out in both matches in the middle for Valpo, registering 19 kills and four blocks in the opener and following with 12 kills on .450 hitting and eight blocks, including two solos, against the Terriers.
“Allison is playing at a different level this year for us,” said Avery. “She has done a good job cutting down her unforced errors, and subsequently is really putting pressure on our opponents with her attacking.”
Meyer hit .500 with eight kills in the nightcap and combined for 22 kills over the day’s two matches. Sara Hughes (San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg, Ohio H.S.) also excelled in both matches, dishing out 97 assists while also picking up 21 digs and four service aces. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) again paced the Crusaders defensively one day after recording her 1,000th career dig, tallying 31 digs against Binghamton (1-3), fifth-most in a five-game match all-time at Valpo, and following with 10 more against St. Francis (0-6), leading the Brown and Gold in both matches. She has now led Valpo in digs in 47 consecutive contests.
Valparaiso (4-1) kicks off its 2007 home slate at the ARC this coming week as the team hosts the annual Popcorn Classic. The Crusaders will take on Marshall on Thursday, Indiana on Friday and Western Michigan on Saturday, with all matches slated for a 7 p.m. start. All matches will also be carried live on WVUR, 95.1 FM Valparaiso, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.