Valparaiso forced a fifth set Friday evening on the road at preseason league favorite Milwaukee, but the Panthers came away with the win in the final frame to earn the 3-2 (19-25, 25-13, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13) victory over the Crusaders at the Klotsche Center in Milwaukee.
The Crusaders jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the early going of the opening set, thanks in large part to three early kills by Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian). Milwaukee came back with four straight points to tie the set at nine and set the tone for a back-and-forth middle portion of the set. Finally, trailing 17-16, Britton tallied a kill to knot up the frame and Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) stepped back and served five straight points to give Valpo breathing room. The Crusaders eventually ended the set on their second set point opportunity on a kill by Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove).
The second set was all Milwaukee, as the Panthers jumped out to leads of 9-1 and 15-4 and cruised to the win to knot the match at a set apiece. The third looked like it would come to the same conclusion, as Milwaukee led 10-4 before Valpo dished out a 10-2 run of its own, highlighted by four kills from Dooms, to storm back and take a 14-12 lead. The end game approached with the two sides going back and forth, but unlike the first set, it was Milwaukee which put together three straight points with the score tied late to take a 2-1 advantage.
The fourth set saw the Panthers gain an early small advantage and hold it through until the Crusaders tied for the first time at 10-10 on a service ace by Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte). Milwaukee put together a 4-1 spurt to lead 14-11, but the Crusaders got back in the frame thanks to a number of Panther errors, earning a 16-16 tie. After Milwaukee used its second timeout, Britton served five points in a row, as Diebler picked up a pair of kills and Dooms and Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) one apiece, to stake Valpo to a 21-16 advantage and close a 9-2 run. The Panthers scored three straight to close within two, but a Groesbeck kill stopped the spurt and Valpo closed the set on a 4-0 run to send the match to the fifth set.
Valpo held a slight advantage for much of the fifth set, earning a trio of two-point leads: at 4-2 on a kill by Dooms, at 8-6 on a kill by Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and at 10-8 on a solo block by Diebler. But each time, Milwaukee scored at least two straight points to keep the Crusaders from pulling away. A Groesbeck kill gave Valpo its final lead at 11-10, but the Panthers scored four straight points to earn three match point opportunities. Valpo staved off two match point chances on kills by Groesbeck and Dooms, but an attack just long gave Milwaukee the match at 15-13.
Both teams struggled offensively Friday, as Milwaukee (7-7, 4-0 Horizon) hit just .124 with 45 kills. Valpo posted 65 kills, but also had 46 attack errors, 16 of which came on Panther blocks, to hit .086 for the match. The Crusaders got a career-best 18 kills from Dooms, while Diebler posted 12 and Groesbeck 11 kills. Britton and Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) chipped in 10 kills apiece as well.
Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led all players in the back row, tallying 34 digs Friday, just one off of her career high. Pokorny picked up 19 digs as well to go along with 53 assists. Cudney, among the national leaders in aces/set entering this weekend, registered four service aces. Milwaukee was led by 14 kills on .464 hitting from Natalie Schmitting, while Rachel Neuberger recorded nine blocks.
Valparaiso (13-3, 2-2 Horizon) looks to get back on the winning track Saturday on the back half of the Wisconsin road trip, as the Crusaders play at Green Bay. First serve is slated for 4 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and live chat.