Valparaiso closed out the regular season with a flourish Saturday at the Athletics-Recreation Center, sweeping Wright State, 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-16) for its 12th consecutive win. The Crusaders enter next weekend’s Horizon League Tournament with a 23-6 overall record, including 12-4 in league action, and will be the tournament’s second seed.
“Senior night is always such a special night, being the last time the senior class is ever going to play in front of the home crowd,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I was very pleased to see such a great turnout from our fans to honor such three deserving players in Britt, Jill and Allison.”
The Crusaders continued their outstanding play of late, sweeping their sixth consecutive Horizon League opponent. Valpo closed the regular season winning 21 straight sets against its league foes and dropped just two sets in the second half of the league slate.
Prior to the match, Valpo honored its three seniors: libero Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), right side Jill MeyerAllison Sears (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) and middle hitter (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), and all three played big roles in the Crusaders’ win Saturday. Malicoat tallied a match-high 22 digs, while Meyer contributed seven kills and a team-best three blocks. Sears tied for match-high honors with 13 kills while hitting at a sizzling .478 clip.
“Sometimes on senior night, you can let the emotion get the best of you, but other times you can use it in your favor,” said Avery. I thought tonight we did a very good job controlling our emotions during the match.
“I found it fitting that all three seniors played such a critical role in the win,” continued Avery. “Allison had another very special night. She has been on a great run during our winning streak, playing some remarkable volleyball and has been a hard player to stop. Brittany had some unbelievable digs during the course of the match that kept key plays alive. Jill had another great performance tonight, not only coming up with kills at crucial moments, but also doing a great job blocking and limiting Wright State’s best hitters.”
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead in the opening set, but Wright State quickly responded, scoring eight of the next 11 points. A Raider attack error tied the set back up at nine, and Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) stepped back to the service line and served five straight points, tallying an ace and getting kills from Sears, Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) during the run. By the time Wise was knocked off the line, it was 14-10 Valpo, and the Crusaders’ advantage would not fall below four points the rest of the way as they took the opener.
The second set was in jeopardy for a while, as a 14-9 Crusader lead was drawn back into a 16-16 tie by a Wright State run. But a Raider service error gave Valpo the lead back, and the Crusaders never relinquished it, led by their seniors. Meyer registered two kills and a block during the set-closing 9-3 spurt, while Sears added a kill and a block of her own.
The ultimately decisive set was never in question, however. Wise served the first six points of the set, as Bollenbacher and Sears each put down two kills during the run. The lead just grew from there and eventually increased to as many as 12 points at 17-5 on a pair of kills by Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central). The Crusaders cruised from that point, eventually ending the match on a kill by freshman Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) as all 13 Valpo players earned court time.
Porché was nearly as effective as Sears on the offensive side of the ball, matching her with 13 kills while swinging at a .407 pace. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out 40 assists on the night as the Crusader offense put down 51 kills, increasing their nation-best kills/set average to 15.24.
Defensively, Bukowski chipped in 11 digs for a double-double as Valpo outdug Wright State (15-15, 10-6 Horizon) by a 60-38 count, holding the Raiders to just 26 kills. Newton tied Meyer for team-high honors at the net with three rejections.
Valparaiso (23-6, 12-4 Horizon) will open Horizon League Championship action on Friday afternoon. The official brackets and tournament schedule will be released by the league office on Sunday.