Valparaiso used a suffocating defensive effort, along with efficient offensive play, to give the senior class of Sara Hughes (San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg [Ohio] H.S.), Tiffany Meikle (Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) and Nicole Schulz (Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) one last victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center, as the Crusaders swept Green Bay, 30-15, 30-28, 30-22 on Saturday evening.
The win gives the senior class 37 victories at the ARC in their four years of play. It was also the 96th victory overall for the trio, making them the third-winningest class in Crusader history with at least five more matches left to play. On the night, Hughes registered a double-double with 27 assists and 11 digs, Schulz hit .320 with 11 kills to go with five blocks and Meikle chipped in seven digs and four kills.
“It was so great to send out this senior class with a win in their last match at home,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “They are three of the hardest-working players a coach could ask for, and it was great to see all three of them play tonight and all play extremely well. I know it’s a night they won’t ever forget.”
Game one was never in doubt, as Valpo scored the first point on a solo block by Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) and never lost the lead from there. The Crusaders hit .350 in the opener with 20 kills, with seven of them coming from Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) on just 10 swings. Porché registered three more kills in the opener than the entire Phoenix team, as Green Bay hit -.083 with just four kills in the frame.
The second game was much tighter, featuring 12 ties and four lead changes. Green Bay gained a late lead at 21-20, but the Crusaders immediately responded with a 5-1 spurt. The Phoenix fought back, however, using its 21st kill of the game to tie it at 28 all. But Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) registered a kill out of a Crusader timeout, and a Green Bay attack error gave Valpo the game. The third game was similar to the first game, never in doubt after the opening stages as Valpo hit .406 with 16 kills while holding the Phoenix to just eight kills on -.031 hitting to earn the sweep.
“Tonight was a well-rounded match for us,” said Avery. “We got great contributions from every player who saw the court tonight. We were especially great defensively, digging a lot of balls, but especially digging them on target. We gave our setters the ability to use all three options on offense a majority of the time, and it really made it tough for Green Bay to defend us.”
Porché led the Valpo offensive attack with 18 kills while hitting at a .471 clip. The sophomore surpassed 900 career kills in the match, and her season total of 432 kills is already tied for ninth-best in a single season in Crusader history. Schulz was the only other Crusader to reach double figures in the category, while Meyer chipped in eight kills on .357 hitting and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) posted seven terminations on .429 hitting, as Valpo hit at a .344 clip as a team for the match.
The story on the defensive side of the ball was once again junior libero Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial). Malicoat tallied 25 digs, tied for fifth-most in a three game match in Valpo history. With her 21st dig of the match, she registered her 1,500th career dig, only the fourth Crusader to ever reach the milestone. She already ranks third on Valpo’s single-season chart in the category this year with 556 digs.
Porché added 13 digs for her 11th double-double in the last 15 matches, helping Valpo to a 62-45 advantage in the category over the Phoenix. At the net, the presence of Schulz showed again, as the Crusaders registered nine blocks on the match, led by six from Layman.
Green Bay (5-17, 3-10 Horizon) was paced by nine kills from Carlie Willison, as it was held to just .074 hitting for the match. Megan Elfering was the only Phoenix player to reach double figures in digs, picking up 16.
“We did what we had to do tonight and got the victory,” said Avery. “Now we have to go on the road the rest of the way, and it’s going to be a tough process. But we’re looking forward to it. We gained a lot of momentum this weekend getting Schulz back, and we’re sitting in a good spot right now.”
Valparaiso (17-8, 7-5 Horizon) finds itself in a tight race for third place in the Horizon League, and closes out the loop with four road matches. The first match in the key stretch is next Friday night, as the Crusaders travel to Youngstown State to take on the Penguins. First serve is slated for 6 p.m. CDT.