Valparaiso was unable to take down Milwaukee Saturday evening at the ARC, dropping a 3-1 (25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17) decision to the league-leading Panthers.
The Crusaders were out-killed for just the fourth time this year, 53-52, as they saw their five-match winning streak come to an end. Valpo did post 15 blocks on the evening, a season-high and the program’s greatest output in nearly four years, but the Crusaders couldn’t overcome 29 attack errors of their own. It was also the final match of the season at the Athletics-Recreation Center, where Valpo closed the year 6-3.
Senior middle hitter Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) moved into 10th place on the Crusaders’ career chart in kills early in the third set, ending the night with 1,033 kills. Fellow senior middle Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) joined Diebler on Valpo’s all-time blocks list, cracking the top-10 late in the first and closing the night with 254 rejections. Sophomore libero Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) continued her march up the Crusader single-season digs chart, surpassing her freshman year total and ending the match with 596 digs this year, already fifth-most in a single season in Valpo history.
The opening set saw the Crusaders claim a trio of two-point leads approaching the halfway mark of the frame, the latest coming at 12-10 on a kill by freshman Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove). But Milwaukee scored five straight points to take a lead it would not relinquish, part of a larger 14-4 run that gave the Panthers multiple set points at 24-16. Valpo staved off half the Panther chances thanks to kills by Diebler and Dooms, a solo block by Layman and a block from Layman and fifth-year senior Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen), but a Natalie Schmitting kill closed the opener in Milwaukee’s favor.
The second frame was close throughout the middle stages, staying tight up until 15-all. But at that point, the Panthers again reeled off a key run, this one a 6-1 spurt that gave them a five-point advantage at 21-16. The Crusaders kept fighting, closing to within three points at 22-19 when Layman and Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) combined to reject a bad Milwaukee set attempt, but the Panthers closed the frame by scoring three of the final four points to take a 2-0 advantage into the locker room.
Valpo never relinquished the lead after taking an outright advantage at 6-5 early in the third set, but still had to fight to send the match to a fourth set. A 5-2 spurt in the middle stages, including two kills by Dooms and one each from Victor and junior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), extended the Crusader advantage to 16-12. Valpo pushed the lead to as many as six points at 21-15 on a kill by junior Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North), but Milwaukee tallied six of the next seven points to close within one at 22-21. Valpo answered with a kill by Dooms and a block from Layman and Dooms to earn set point, and ended the set on its second opportunity on another termination by Dooms.
Milwaukee would lead start to finish in the fourth set, however, to earn the match win. The Panthers held a slim 15-13 advantage before a three-point spurt increased their edge to five points. Valpo used a kill by Pokorny and a UWM attack error to close back to within 18-15, but Milwaukee closed the match on a 7-2 run.
Dooms led the way for the Crusaders on the attack Saturday, registering 14 kills, while Victor matched her career high with 11 terminations. Pokorny handed out 40 assists on the evening. Root paced Valpo in the back row with 23 digs and Bollenbacher added 14 of her own, her fifth double-figure output in the back in her last six matches. Diebler and Layman were each in on seven of the Crusaders’ 15 team blocks, the former matching her season high in the category.
Milwaukee (17-8, 12-1 Horizon) got a match-high 17 kills on .300 hitting from Kerri Schuh, while Schmitting added 11 kills of her own. Morgan Potter posted a match-best 29 digs, pacing three Panthers in double figures. Schmitting and Rachel Neuberger each registered five blocks as Milwaukee tallied 11 rejections in the win.
Valparaiso (21-6, 8-5 Horizon) closes the regular season with four road matches, three of which are Horizon League contests. A key weekend of league play kicks off Friday night at Youngstown State, with first serve set for 6 p.m. CT. Live audio and video webcasts will be available at www.valpoathletics.com, with the audio available locally on WVUR, 95.1 FM. Live stats can also be accessed through the official Crusader website.