Both Valparaiso and UIC sided out twice on the other side’s match points in the fifth set Saturday evening, but the Flames converted on their third match point to take a 3-2 (18-25, 25-20, 26-24, 15-25, 19-17) victory over the Crusaders at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The Crusaders cruised to victory in the opening frame, jumping out to a quick 7-1 lead and never let the advantage fall below five points on their way to going up 1-0. The second set was much tighter in the early going, but with Valpo leading 10-9, UIC rolled off ten of the next 13 points to go ahead 19-13 and force the Crusaders to use both of their timeouts. Back-to-back points cut the Flame lead to four points, but UIC would close out the set to go into the break tied at one.
The third set looked like it was going Valpo’s way most of the frame, as the Crusaders jumped in front early and held off a few mini-runs by the Flames during the set. Valpo earned four set points at 24-20 after a kill by Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South), but UIC clawed back into the frame. A kill by Katerina Hanackova and a solo block by Epiphany Davis cut the lead to two. UIC then got a termination by Katarina Nedeljkovic and another block from Davis and Christin Hunt to knot up the set at 24. Back-to-back Crusader attack errors gave UIC the third set.
“I actually liked what we were doing during those points,” said Avery. “We were taking care of the ball and were trying a lot of different things at the net to keep UIC off-balance and not be predictable. We just couldn’t get a kill when we needed it during those points.”
Valpo pulled away methodically from UIC in the fourth set, extending its lead throughout the frame. An early 4-0 run gave the Crusaders an 8-4 advantage, and the lead did not fall below three points the rest of the way as they sent the match to a decisive fifth set.
UIC took the early edge in the fifth set, holding the lead throughout and forcing Valpo to use its first timeout at 10-7 Flames. Out of the stoppage, Porché registered a kill and back-to-back Flame attack errors knotted it up at 10, bringing about a UIC timeout. Another attack error by UIC made it 11-10 Valpo, but the Flames rolled off the next three points on a kill by Hanackova and back-to-back solo blocks by Hunt and Lana Lobdell.
Porché came through on the next two points for the Crusaders, registering successive kills to make it 13-all. A Hanackova kill gave UIC its first match point, but again Porché was there with the big termination. Valpo committed an attack error to give the Flames their second attempt at 15-14, but this time Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) came up with the kill to keep the Crusaders alive.
Meyer and Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) proceeded to combine on a huge block to turn the tables and give Valpo its first attempt to win the match at 16-15, but out of the Flames timeout, Nedeljkovic tallied a kill to knot it up at 16. Sears put down a big kill on the next point for Valpo’s second match point, but this time UIC’s Casie Sullivan was there with a kill to extend the match. Sullivan registered another termination to make it 18-17 UIC and a Valpo attack error would end the match in the Flames’ favor.
“I thought tonight was a weak effort mentally,” said Avery. “I think our team is very, very good, but at the ends of sets we tend to tense up. We need somebody to step up, to want the ball and take care of the ball at the end of sets when we have teams right where we want them.”
The Crusaders lost despite holding large advantages over UIC (7-11, 2-5 Horizon) in kills (76-48), hitting percentage (.200-.114) and digs (110-91). The Flames did outblock Valpo by a 15-11 margin and tallied nine service aces.
Valpo was led defensively by Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), who led five players in double figures with a season-best 32 digs. Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) and Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) each set career highs in the category with 20 and 17 digs, respectively. At the net, Sears posted a new season-high with eight rejections. Porché led the offensive attack with 24 kills, while Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) added 16 kills on .333 hitting to go with 14 digs.
Valparaiso (11-6, 3-4 Horizon) has a quick turnaround for its next match, taking on Loyola at the ARC at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The match can be heard on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and video.