In a meeting of the top two preseason choices in the Horizon League and a rematch of the 2007 Horizon League championship, Valparaiso earned a hard-fought 3-2 (25-27, 25-22, 27-25, 24-26, 15-11) victory Friday evening in the Crusaders’ home opener at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“I can’t say enough about what it means to come back home and play in front of the home crowd,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We had a great, loud crowd tonight and we definitely appreciate their support; this is exactly what we needed to get back on track as a team. We talked about how our main goal today was to come out and to be the aggressor, and for the vast majority of the match, I thought we did just that.”
The first set was an offensive showcase on both sides of the net, as both squads hit better than .480 in the opener. Valpo led by as many as four points late and held two set point opportunities at 24-22, but kills by Amy Benz and Jordan Bateman knotted up the frame. Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) sided out with a kill to give Valpo a third chance to take the opener, but a Crusader service error made it 25-all, and Cleveland State took advantage, ending the set with two more kills to go ahead 1-0.
The second set took on a much different shape, as both defenses shored up, but Cleveland State held the early edge, forcing the Crusaders to use both of their timeouts as the Vikings pulled ahead 18-12. Valpo went on a 4-1 mini-spurt to force CSU to use a timeout, but back-to-back Viking points out of the stoppage put them ahead 21-16 as they looked poised to go up 2-0 into the in-game break.
Valpo’s comeback started innocuously enough, with a kill by Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) followed by a Viking error to bring the Crusaders back within three. From that point on, though, Porché took over the set. Back-to-back kills by the junior brought Valpo to 21-20, and after a CSU point, she tallied two more terminations in a row to draw even at 22-22, the first tie since 2-2. She then showcased her defensive ability, combining with Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) on a block to put Valpo in front. Another kill by Porché gave the Crusaders multiple set points, and on the first, a Viking player hit the ball out of bounds to give Valpo the victory.
The third set saw the Crusaders get out in front by a good margin early, as two service aces and a kill by Sears keyed a 6-0 run to put Valpo ahead 12-6. The Crusaders would never fall behind, but Cleveland State kept inching back into the picture and eventually ran off three straight points to tie the set at 22. The teams proceeded to side out seven straight times, with the final sideout coming off a Porché kill to give Valpo its third set point at 26-25. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) found Newton in the middle for the deciding kill to put Valpo in front, 2-1.
Cleveland State went in front early in the fourth frame, but an 8-3 run gave the Crusaders a 14-11 advantage in the middle of the set. Valpo would maintain the edge through most of the remainder of the set, until the Vikings rolled off three straight to take a 21-20 lead. Two straight points gave the lead back to the Crusaders, and a Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) kill would give Valpo a match point chance at 24-23. But CSU’s Beth Greulich picked up a key kill, and a service ace followed by a Jenni Ramminger kill sent the match to a decisive fifth set.
The final frame, however, lacked any of the drama that the first four sets contained. Valpo ran away early, getting five straight points to open the set on the serve of Bukowski, including an ace to close out the 5-0 run. The Crusader lead would expand to as many as seven points, and they never led by less than three in beating the Vikings for the first time in four chances since joining the Horizon League.
“This was just a great match to watch,” said Avery. “Neither side committed many errors. It was just good volleyball being played by both teams. It was good to see our sideout offense get back on track, eliminating many of the errors from the past couple weeks. Our serving was the best it’s been all season, and it was also nice to see our block be evenly matched with Cleveland State.”
Porché led the Valpo offense with 23 kills and swung at a .360 clip for the match, but she had plenty of help, as she was one of five Crusaders to reach double figures in the category and one of four to hit at least .300. Sears put down 16 kills on .308 hitting, while Meyer added a season-best 14 terminations while hitting .345.
Newton came off the bench to chip in a season-best 11 kills and hit at a sizzling .471 clip. Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) added ten kills and posted a double-double, as did Porché. Quarterbacking the Valpo offense was Bukowski, who picked up a career-high 66 assists Friday while also recording three kills and two aces.
“Kim really did a great job distributing the ball tonight,” said Avery. “She really made some great decisions and got our hitters one-on-one opportunities with their blockers. Tara came in off the bench and did a fabulous job in the middle, giving us a big lift when we needed one. It was also great to see Angie get back on track with another big-time match after struggling a bit last weekend.”
Defensively, it was reigning Horizon League Scholar-Athlete of the Week Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) who led the way, surpassing her season high by picking up 27 digs in the back row. Porché added 14 digs, while Bollenbacher registered 12 of her own. On the block, Bollenbacher, Newton and Sears each had four rejections as the Crusaders tallied eight blocks on the night.
Cleveland State (2-11, 1-3 Horizon) was paced offensively by Greulich, who tallied 17 kills on .353 hitting. Jordan Bateman led all players with 28 digs on the night. The Crusaders held a significant edge in the kills category, recording a season-high 80 versus just 68 for Cleveland State, while the Vikings held slight advantages in digs (68-66) and blocks (9-8).
Valparaiso (9-5, 1-3 Horizon) returns to the ARC for another league match Saturday afternoon as the Crusaders host Youngstown State. First serve is set for 4 p.m. and the match can be heard live on www.sportsjuice.com. Links for live video, audio and statistics will be available at www.valpoathletics.com. Prior to the match, a free BBQ will be held in between the ARC and the bookstore beginning at 2 p.m., with live music and free t-shirts.