Valparaiso kicked off the second half of Horizon League play Friday evening at the ARC the same way it ended the first half of league competition, defeating Youngstown State 3-1 (25-22, 28-26, 19-25, 25-19) for its seventh straight victory overall and to keep pace atop the league standings at 8-1.
“This was a really important win for us tonight because we have a long stretch on the road coming up,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We needed to make sure to get this win at home to continue our momentum into a big part of our schedule.”
The Crusaders got a huge effort Friday night from senior outside hitter Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South), who was set 66 times on the night, tying for the third-most attacks in a four-set match in Valpo history. Porché came through with kills on 26 of her swings, just three kills off of her career high, and hit at a .288 clip for the match.
“We had to set Angie a lot of balls tonight because Youngstown State was causing us to struggle elsewhere in our offense,” said Avery. “Considering the number of swings she took, I thought she did a very good job stepping up and producing a lot of big kills for us.”
The Penguins got out to a quick start in the opening frame, forcing a Crusader timeout halfway through at 13-7. Valpo inched its way back into the set, but not until a three-point spurt at 20-18 would the Crusaders be able to take the lead. A kill by Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and a service ace by Haley Wise (Misahwaka, Ind./Mishawaka) brought Valpo into a tie at 20-all, and a block by Diebler and Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) gave Valpo its first outright lead of the opener.
Youngstown State answered with a kill by Haley Kapferer, but an attack error gave the lead right back to the Crusaders. Porché came up with a termination to make it a two-point edge at 23-21 before YSU got another kill form Kapferer to close back to within one point. But Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) tallied a kill to give Valpo a pair of set point opportunities, and then proceeded to combine on a rejection with Porché to close out the opener.
The second set was tight throughout, as neither team would gain more than a three-point edge at any point of the frame. A pair of kills by Porché, combined with two YSU errors, comprised a 4-1 spurt that turned a 17-all tie into a 21-18 Crusader advantage, but the Penguins answered right back with five of the next seven points to tie the set at 23-23.
Valpo would gain set point chances on each of the next three Penguin serves, as a YSU error, a Diebler kill and a Mary Dent (Long Grove, Ill./Von Steuben) put the Crusaders ahead by one at 24-23, 25-24 and 26-25, respectively. Youngstown State was able to stave off each of those three opportunities, with a Kapferer solo block tying the set at 26-26, but Porché stepped up when the Crusaders needed her to, getting kills on each of the next two points to send Valpo into intermission up two sets.
An early 7-2 run provided Youngstown State all the breathing room it would need in the third set, as the Penguins hit at a .342 clip for the set while holding Valpo to an .059 hitting percentage. The Crusaders did put together a 6-2 run to cut the YSU lead to 21-18, but would get no closer as the Penguins sent the match into a fourth set.
The Crusaders turned the tables on the Penguins in the eventual final set, jumping out to an 8-3 lead and forcing YSU to use both its timeouts, thanks in large part to three early kills from Porché. Valpo would cruise from there, never letting its lead fall under three points, and fittingly the final point of the match came on a Porché kill.
The Valpo defense came up with 95 digs on the night, led by 25 from freshman libero Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison). Four other Crusaders also reached double figures on the night as well. Bukowski set a new career high with 19, while Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) registered 16 digs. Wise totaled 15 digs over the four sets, matching her season-high in the category, while Porché chipped in 11 digs for her seventh double-double of the year.
Diebler served as a nice offensive complement to Porché Friday night, tallying 13 kills while swinging at a .323 clip. Bukowski handed out 49 assists on the night, moving into third place on Valpo’s all-time chart in the category and registering her third double-double of the season. But the Crusader offense on the whole struggled, as the Penguins outhit Valpo .186-.162 for the night.
“Again, our number of errors almost hurt us,” said Avery. “We’ve still got to figure out a way to eliminate unforced errors on our side of the net. We knew coming in they were a good blocking team, and we knew we had to figure out ways to get the ball over the block to be successful. More often than not, we were able to, which is why we out-produced them in kills. But Youngstown was still able to block 17 attacks and we had 15 other attack errors as well, which is why the sets were so tight.”
Youngstown State (6-13, 4-5) got 17 kills on .395 hitting from Kaitlin O’Hara to lead the way offensively. Ruth Boscaljon and Allison Heinz each posted eight blocks, as the Penguins out-blocked the Crusaders 17-6 at the net.
Valparaiso (15-6, 8-1) begins a four-match road trip on Tuesday as the Crusaders take on former Mid-Con foe IUPUI in Indianapolis. First serve is slated for 6 p.m. CDT, and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. Links for live audio, as well as live stats, will also be available through www.valpoathletics.com.