For the second consecutive match, Valparaiso dropped the first set but rallied to take each of the next three, taking a 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-16) victory Friday evening over Butler at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The match kicked off the Crusader volleyball program’s two-week emphasis on breast cancer awareness. In front of a season-best crowd of 895 fans at the ARC, Valpo donned pink uniforms for the first of four matches over the next two weeks. At each match, Valparaiso’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Crusader volleyball team will be selling t-shirts and accepting donations for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a foundation dedicated to fighting the disease.
“The first time we faced Butler (a 3-0 Butler sweep), we went in with a solid game plan, but we didn’t do a good job of executing,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I thought tonight, we did a much better job of executing that game plan. We won the serving and passing game this time around, which really helped us, and we were able to eliminate a lot of our errors in all aspects of the match. We did a really good job of getting Butler out of system, and our transition offense stepped up and converted a lot of points for us.”
Butler sped out to the early lead in the opener, forcing the Crusaders to take a timeout at 7-2. Valpo scored three straight points out of the break, but would remain a few points behind for most of the frame, as the Bulldogs held the Crusaders at bay. It was a five-point Butler lead at 20-15 when Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) went to work, registering three straight kills to draw Valpo back to within two points.
Following a Bulldog block, Valpo ran off four more points in a row on a kill by Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), a Butler attack error, a Porché ace and a termination by Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) to take the lead for the first time in the set at 22-21. Both teams would side out to leave the Crusaders just two points shy of taking the opener, but two kills and a service ace by Butler finished out the set in the Bulldogs’ favor.
The second set was extremely tight in the early stages, as the teams reached their 12th tie of the frame at 14-14. But the Crusaders took over from that point, scoring five of the next six points, spearheaded by a trio of kills from Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), to force a Butler timeout at 19-15. After the stoppage and a Butler kill, Sears, Porché and Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) each registered kills to make it 22-16 and put the set away.
Butler got out to the quick lead in the third set, but the Crusaders would respond immediately, taking the advantage at 6-5 and never letting Butler re-gain the lead. With the score 16-11 Valpo, the Bulldogs went on a 6-1 spurt to tie the frame at 17, but a service error gave Valpo the lead right back at 18-17. The Crusaders used that error to jump-start an 8-1 run to close the set and go up two sets to one, led during the run by a pair of kills each from Sears and Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen).
The fourth set played out similarly to the third, with the Bulldogs going on top early before a quick Valpo spurt put it in front for good. A 10-6 lead for the Crusaders dwindled down to 12-11 before Valpo took control, scoring 13 of the match’s last 18 points and ending the night on back-to-back combined blocks from Bollenbacher and Newton.
Porché led all players in the kills category with 21 terminations on the night, moving her into third place on Valpo’s career chart in the category and just three kills shy of the second spot. Sears enjoyed her best night of the season up front, registering a season-high 19 kills while swinging at a .500 clip for the second time this year.
“Allison has always been a player to get a lot of kills for us, but tonight she did a great job of eliminating her errors, and that’s why she was able to hit so well,” said Avery. “When Allison and Tara are on their game and hitting well, it means we’re passing the ball very well and it ultimately helps us to win matches.”
Defensively, Sears registered a match-best five blocks, including three of the solo variety, to move her within ten rejections of Valpo’s all-time top-ten in the category. Bollenbacher and Newton added three blocks apiece. On the back line, Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led all players with 31 digs, the fifth-most in a four-set match all-time at Valpo.
As a team, the Crusaders hit at a .295 clip, their second-best effort of the season, and tallied 65 kills over the four sets. Valpo’s average kills/set on the season increased in the victory to 15.12, moving it ahead of Penn State for the top spot among all NCAA Division I teams in kills/set.
“I think it is truly remarkable that we’re atop the nation in kills,” said Avery. “It really shows what a great setter we have in Kim and that we have some great attackers, and an all-around good, solid team. I still think we can find ways to improve some other areas of the game, like our blocking and our serving, so that we don’t have to be so reliant on coming up with kills.”
Butler (15-6, 5-4 Horizon) was led by Porshia Allen, who registered 16 kills and five blocks on the night. Jessica Wolfe added 11 kills, while Katie Daprile picked up 18 digs on the back line.
Valparaiso (13-6, 5-4 Horizon) steps out of league play on Tuesday when the Crusaders host former Mid-Continent Conference foe IUPUI at 7 p.m. All the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live video and statistics.