Volleyball Kicks Off Horizon League Play at Home
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Volleyball Kicks Off Horizon League Play at Home
The Crusaders are looking to improve on their 10-1 start. (Aaron Leavitt)
Valparaiso (10-1, 0-0 Horizon)
Horizon League play begins at the ARC

Friday, Sept. 17 - 7 p.m. - Wright State (4-6, 0-0 Horizon)
Saturday, Sept. 18 - 4 p.m. - Butler (4-6, 0-0 Horizon)
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: Horizon League play is on the slate this weekend for Valparaiso, as is the start of the home schedule, as the Crusaders take the court at the ARC for the first time this year against Wright State and Butler.  The Crusaders are looking to continue the best start in program history and also extend a 10-match winning streak.

Looking Back at Last Week:
The Crusaders extended their winning streak to 10 matches with four victories last week, sweeping Indiana State in mid-week action before taking down Presbyterian and Hofstra, both in straight sets, and Bradley (3-1) to win the Bradley Classic.  Sophomore libero Taylor Root was named Tournament MVP, while senior middle Tara Diebler and junior setter Jenny Pokorny joined Root on the All-Tournament Team.

Following the Crusaders:
Both matches this week will have live video and audio links at www.valpoathletics.com, while the radio broadcast for both matches can be heard as always on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso.  Live stats for both matches will be available as well through the official Crusader website.

Head Coach Carin Avery: Carin Avery is in her ninth season at the helm of the Crusader volleyball program and has experienced nothing but success as head coach.  Avery is 204-74 (.734) in her eight-plus years at Valpo and owns a 259-98 (.725) record overall in ten-plus years as a head coach.  She ranks among the top-20 winningest active coaches in Division I volleyball and is Valpo’s all-time leader in both wins and winning percentage.

Series Notes: Wright State - 8-14 overall (5-1 under Avery); last meeting: 3-0 Valpo @ WSU 10/24/09 (Porché 16 kills, .306; Diebler 13 kills; Britton 9 kills, .389; Layman 9 kills, .643; team hit .287; Root 16 digs)
Butler - 8-23 overall (6-2 under Avery); last meeting: 3-1 Butler @ Butler 10/30/09 (Porché 15 kills; Diebler 13 kills, .364; Layman 10 kills, .381; Bukowski 40 assists, 14 digs)

The Opponents:
Wright State - 5-6; senior OH Jessica Woods 3.14 kps, 4.09 dps; fresh OH Heidi Splinter 2.79 kps, 3.16 dps; senior MB Shaunda Sandifer 2.44 kps, 1.33 bps; senior MB Ashley Heyman 1.49 kps, .369; fresh S Molly Dolson 8.70 aps; soph L Kenzie Egan 3.74 dps
Butler - 4-6; senior OH Jessica Wolfe 4.14 kps, 2.95 dps; junior MB Maureen Bamiro 2.62 kps, .301, 0.81 bps; fresh OH Maggie Harbison 2.05 kps, 2.57 dps, 0.78 bps; soph S Gina Vera 9.65 aps, 2.59 dps; senior L Katie Daprile 4.68 dps

The Best Start: With their 10-1 record through 11 matches, the 2010 Crusader squad has matched the best start in program history.  The 2003 Valpo team also started out 10-1 en route to a 27-8 final record and the program’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  The 2003 Crusaders actually hold the best 12 and 13-match starts in program history as well at 10-2 and 10-3, respectively, despite suffering back-to-back losses after the 10-1 start, marks which this year’s team can surpass with one or two wins this weekend.

Double-Digit Winning Streaks: Of course, this year’s 10-1 start began with the lone blemish in the loss column, meaning that the Crusaders extended their winning streak to 10 straight matches with the win over Bradley Saturday night.  The 10-match winning streak is tied with a streak put together by the 1995 team for the third-longest in program history.  The only longer stretches of wins were accomplished by the 2004 (14 straight) and 2008 (13 straight) teams.

Wanted - Bigger Trophy Case: The Crusaders captured their third straight in-season tournament title by bringing home the crown from the Bradley Invitational last weekend, the first time in program history Valpo has won three consecutive in-season tournaments.  Valpo, which won the La Salle and Appalachian Invitationals in this season’s first two weekends, previously earned three in-season tournament titles in 2006, but one of those championships came at the end of the regular season.

Easy as 1-2-3: After sweeping just one of their first seven matches of the season, the Crusaders flipped the script last weekend, earning straight-set victories in three of the four wins.  True to early-season form, however, the one match Valpo did not sweep, it had to come back after losing the opening set, making the Crusaders a perfect 4-0 this year when dropping the opener.

Keeping Play Alive...: Valparaiso has proven especially efficient in the early portion of the season at keeping the ball in play and keeping rallies going.  The Crusaders are averaging 18.17 digs/set through three weekends, easily the most in the Horizon League and ranked sixth nationally, thanks in large part to Root’s efforts at libero.  Three other Crusaders are also averaging between two and three digs per set as well.

...and Then Finishing: And so far this year, it’s typically been Valpo coming out on the right end of those long rallies.  The Crusaders are averaging 13.78 kills/set, over three more kills per frame than they’re allowing, and have committed 29 fewer attack errors despite posting 84 more attacks than the opposition.

MVP Honors: With tournament titles generally come the tournament MVP for a member of your team, and that has been true for Valpo through the first three weekends.  Root was just the latest Crusader to bring home top honors, as junior outside hitter Katie Britton was the MVP of the La Salle Invitational, while senior middle hitter Tara Diebler earned MVP honors at the Appalachian Invitational.

Root Among Nation’s Best: It’s a mark of Root’s consistency on the back line that she earned tournament MVP honors this past weekend despite actually averaging fewer digs/set than she’s posted on the season.  But it’s that same consistency that currently has the sophomore atop the Horizon League and second nationally, averaging 6.05 digs/set.  Root posted an even six digs/set in last week’s four matches, including 5.70 digs/set in the three matches of the Bradley Invitational, where she led all players in digs in all three contests.

Inside the Numbers: Root has tallied at least 15 digs in all 11 matches to date, including eight efforts of 20+ digs and a career-best 35 on Sept. 4 at Appalachian St.  The sophomore has led the Crusaders in all 11 matches and has paced all players in eight contests so far.  Her current 6.05 digs/set pace is all the more impressive when you consider that Valpo’s single-season record of 5.78 digs/set was set by Brittany Malicoat in 2007, when sets were still contested to 30 points.

Laundry List of Honors: It’s getting to the point where you might need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the awards Root has racked up this season to date, just three weeks into her sophomore year.  The list includes:
Week 1 - HL Defensive Player of the Week [8/30]
Week 2 - All-Tournament at Appalachian Invitational [9/4], HL Defensive Player of the Week [9/6], HLN People’s Choice [9/9]
Week 3 - MVP at Bradley Invitational [9/11], CVU National Top Performer [9/14]

Demolition by Diebler: Diebler posted another MVP-like performance at the net last week en route to her second straight All-Tournament honor at the Bradley Invitational.  The senior averaged 3.69 kills/set on .402 hitting in last week’s four matches, including 3.80 kills/set on .405 hitting in the three matches at Bradley.  Diebler has now reached double figures in kills in each of Valpo’s last nine matches and has hit .300 or better all nine times.  She currently ranks third in the league in hitting percentage (.344) and fifth in kills/set (3.14).

Pokorny Sets the Pace: Junior setter Jenny Pokorny earned her second All-Tournament accolade of the season at Bradley this past weekend, averaging 10.6 assists/set while quarterbacking the Crusader offense as it registered nearly 15 kills/set while hitting .268.  In her first season as the primary setter, Pokorny currently ranks fourth in the HL in assists/set (9.73) and is also fifth in hitting percentage (.322).  She also is chipping in 2.51 digs/set and is second among Crusaders with 10 service aces this year.

Aces for Ariel: Freshman Ariel Cudney has found her way into the Crusaders’ regular rotation as a defensive specialist, averaging nearly two digs/set this year.  But her most lethal contribution has been at the service line, where she has already picked up 19 aces in 11 matches.  Cudney has registered aces on nearly one out of every six serves, while her average of 0.56 aces/set leads the Horizon League and ranks 24th nationally.

Britton Ending Rallies: Junior outside hitter Katie Britton has combined with Diebler to be a solid 1-2 punch on the offensive side of the ball this year.  Britton enters league play averaging 3.12 kills/set, sixth-best in the league.  She has registered double-digit kill efforts in seven matches this year, including three out of four last week.

Record Book Watch:
A number of Crusaders are threatening to break into Valpo’s career charts with solid years in 2010.  In their respective senior seasons, Val Bollenbacher is just 157 kills shy of Valpo’s all-time top-10 in the category, while Diebler is within seven blocks of the top-10 for all-time rejections.  Also, Pokorny will break into Valpo’s career top-10 for assists this weekend and could move as high as eighth this season.

Looking Back at 2009: Valparaiso enjoyed another successful season in 2009, finishing the year 22-11 overall and 12-4 in Horizon League play.  The Crusaders finished second in the Horizon League regular season standings for the second straight season, marking eight times in the last nine years they have earned a top-two finish in conference play.

Eight Straight 20-Win Seasons: The Crusaders’ 22 victories last year helped the program continue a tremendous streak of success.  Valparaiso has won 20 or more matches every year since 2002, Avery’s first at the helm of the Crusader program.  Valpo is one of just 13 programs nationwide to have won at least 20 matches in each of the last eight years.

Crusaders Picked Third in Preseason Poll:
The head coaches selected Valparaiso to finish third in the Horizon League this season according to the preseason poll.  Only Milwaukee, last year’s tournament champion, and Cleveland State, last season’s regular season champion, were chosen ahead of the Crusaders.

Welcome Newbies:
The Crusaders have plenty of new faces for fans to put names to in 2010, as a class of eight freshmen enters together for their rookie year.  The eight-person class, the largest Avery has brought in during her time at Valpo, makes up almost half of the 17-player roster, also the largest under Avery.

Quickly: Freshman outside Kelsey Victor debuted last weekend against Presbyterian, tallying five kills ... freshman middle Ellen Vanden Berg led Valpo with four blocks against Hofstra, despite playing just two sets ... 16 Crusaders in all played at least two sets apiece at the Bradley Invitational.