Faced with a one-game deficit Saturday afternoon in Chicago, Ill, the Valparaiso volleyball team regrouped and stormed back, handily winning the next three games to earn a 3-1 (30-32, 30-23, 30-24, 30-22) victory over UIC. The win gives the Crusaders a share of third place in their first season of Horizon League play, and is also the 200th victory as a head coach for Carin Avery.
“After all the adversity we’ve been through this season, it was great to close out the year with two hard-fought wins on the road,” said Avery. “We were excited to find out that we finished in third place. I think it’s a testament to the willpower of this team that, with all our injuries, we were still able to finish where the coaches picked us in the preseason.”
The Crusaders looked poised to take the opening game Saturday, as a kill by Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) gave them four game points at 29-25. But UIC responded with five straight points to take a 30-29 lead, and while a Tiffany Meikle (Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) kill staved off the Flames’ first game point, they would convert on the second to take the first game.
Valpo led early on in the second game, jumping out to an11-4 advantage. The Flames would come back and take numerous small leads in the middle portion, the last of which came at 19-18. From there, the Crusaders took over, scoring 12 of the game’s last 16 points to send the match into the break tied at a game apiece.
Games three and four were similar in nature for the Crusaders. Both games were close in the early going before Valpo made runs in the middle of the game. The Crusaders were never threatened late in either set, as their lead never fell below three points in either frame as they cruised to the victory.
Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) led the Crusaders in kills for the 20th time on the season, ending 24 rallies while hitting at a .345 clip for the match. Porché also added 15 digs for her 13th double-double of the season. The sophomore now has 517 kills on the season, second-most in a single campaign in Valpo history and just 19 terminations shy of the top spot. She is also just three kills shy of reaching the 1,000 kill milestone.
Porché was far from Valpo’s only offensive threat, however, as Bollenbacher also posted 20 kills. Meikle added season-best totals of 12 kills and 18 digs in tallying her second consecutive double-double.
“Angie had a brilliant night for us in every aspect of the game,” said Avery. “Val did a great job, not only in getting kills, but in eliminating a lot of her errors, something we’ve been working with her on. I am proud of the job Tiffany did this weekend, not just on the playing floor, but also in her leadership, something we needed this weekend.”
Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) paced Valpo on the back line with 27 digs, the tenth time this year that the junior has registered at least 25 digs. Malicoat surpassed the 1,600-dig plateau late in the match and currently has 1,601 career digs, second-most in Crusader history. She has also tallied 653 digs this year, just 22 shy of her own single-season record set last year.
“Brittany really took control of the court for us tonight,” said Avery. “As our libero, we ask her to step up and be the leader on the back line with her ball control, and she did a superb job of doing that for us today.”
Valpo reached double figures in the blocks category for the third time in the last four matches, registering 10 rejections on Saturday. Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) led the way with five blocks, while Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) added four apiece. Newton also chipped in eight kills and three service aces on the night.
UIC (14-15, 6-10 Horizon) was paced by 14 kills apiece from Katerina Hanackova and Amanda Kenny. Lana Lobdell added 12 kills on .385 hitting, while Taylor Szatkowski led the Flames’ defensive effort with 19 digs.
The Crusaders enjoyed a significant 74-54 edge in the kills category and also out-hit the Flames by a .225-.166 margin. Valpo out-dug UIC, 82-76, and tallied eight service aces versus five for the Flames.
“It was wonderful to see a number of players step up for us this weekend,” said Avery. “This was another weekend where we had to throw some people into different spots on the floor, and everybody responded so well with their play. These two wins really give us the momentum we need heading into our first Horizon League Championship.”
Valparaiso (19-10, 9-7 Horizon) will look to earn its sixth consecutive 20-win season when it kicks off play in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Championship on Friday. Pairings and match times will be announced on Monday.