Valparaiso snapped its four-match losing streak in emphatic fashion, sweeping Bradley (29-27, 25-18, 25-18) in East Peoria, Ill. on Tuesday evening.
The Crusaders got out to a quick start in the opening set, forcing a Bradley timeout at 9-5. The Braves crept back to within 12-10, but Valpo put together an 8-2 run featuring four kills from Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) to take a 20-12 lead. Bradley did not back down, however, rolling off eight straight points to tie the frame at 20 and forcing the Crusaders to use both of their timeouts in the process.
Back-to-back kills by Bollenbacher and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) gave Valpo a 22-20 lead, and it would turn into a pair of set points for the Brown and Gold at 24-22. But an attack error and a Bradley kill knotted up the set at 24. Valpo earned three more set point opportunities behind kills by Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) and Porché and a block by Meyer and Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie), but could not take advantage of any of them. Finally, with a 28-27 lead, Porché gave Valpo the opener with her seventh kill of the set.
It was Bradley which led midway through the second set, going on a 6-2 spurt to earn a 12-9 lead and inducing a Crusader timeout. Valpo responded immediately out of the stoppage, scoring five of the next six points to take the lead for good. The Crusaders would end the set on a 16-6 run to go up two sets to none into the in-game break.
Valpo led start to finish in the finale, with the key run coming midway through the set. The Crusaders were leading by just two points at 14-12 before reeling off a 9-1 run, including two service aces from Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) to take control and close out the match.
“It’s been a really rough couple of weeks for us,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “To be on the road for 32 days straight to start the season is not an easy task for any team. But you can’t use that as an excuse for the way we lost our last four matches, because you win matches on the road by being mentally focused, and we hadn’t had that focus the past couple of weeks. I thought tonight, we did a better job of focusing on the match at hand, and hopefully we maintain the focus and gain energy from our home crowd as we get ready for a long stretch of home matches in October.”
Porché led the way for the Crusaders offensively, tallying 19 kills while hitting at a stellar .441 clip. She was joined by Bollenbacher and Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) in double figures in the kill category, as Bollenbacher picked up 15 and Sears 11 terminations. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) handed out 47 assists on the match while moving into seventh place on Valpo’s career assists chart.
“Kim did a great job distributing the ball equally on the offensive side,” said Avery. “Her setting really kept Bradley’s defense off-balance.”
Defensively, Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led the way with 27 digs, the third-most digs in a three-set match in Crusader history. Wise added 12 digs on the back line to go along with three aces.
“We did a much better job taking care of the ball tonight in every aspect of the game,” said Avery. “That starts with our play in the back row, and both Brittany and Haley did a great job leading that charge, taking control on the first contact.”
Valparaiso (8-5) returns to Horizon League play and opens the 2008 home campaign at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Friday evening as the Crusaders host Cleveland State at 7 p.m. The match will be broadcast live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, and live video, audio and statistics will be available online at www.valpoathletics.com.