A record-setting night from Valparaiso's defense propelled the Crusaders to an early two games to one edge, but #11 UCLA fought back to take the match from Valpo three games to two (28-30, 30-21, 30-24, 24-30, 9-15) Friday evening at the InnTowner Invitational in Madison, Wis.
The Crusaders used the block throughout the match as a scoring weapon, racking up 21 team blocks over the five games. It was the third time in Valpo history 21 blocks have been recorded in a single match, and the first time it had been done in a five-game match. Liz Mikos (Dundee, Ill./Jacobs H.S.) led the Crusader defense with ten blocks, two solo, while Lauren Moulton (Elgin, Ill./Larkin H.S.) and Jessie Fox (Granger, Ind./Penn H.S.) chipped in eight apiece.
Valpo showed right away that the Bruins' national ranking would not intimidate them, as the Crusaders charged back from an early six-point deficit. UCLA would hang on to capture game one, as the Brown and Gold committed two crucial errors in the late stages of the first game.
The Crusaders' defense was especially strong in game two, as Valpo tallied seven blocks, holding the Bruins to a -.054 hitting percentage for the game, and never allowed UCLA to cut the margin under three points. Game three was more of the same, as the Brown and Gold registered five blocks, while the offense stepped up to hit at a .324 rate for the game.
UCLA flew out of the gate to begin game four, jumping out to a 13-point lead at 21-8. Valpo never folded, however, clawing back to within two points at 26-24 before the Bruins finished with a four-point run of their own. The Crusaders started strong in the fifth game, but UCLA proved too much for Valpo, as the Bruins hit at a .556 rate to capture the deciding game.
Amy Palash (Winfield, Ill./Saint Francis H.S.) led Valpo's offense, hitting .260 with 19 kills. Palash also added 12 digs for her fourth double-double of the season. Katie Bova (Milwaukee, Wis./Divine Savior Holy Angels H.S.) paced the Crusaders with 52 assists and 18 digs, while also adding seven kills and five blocks.
Kaitlin Sather led the Bruins with 22 kills, while Nancy Barba and Nana Meriwether added 15 apiece. Meriwether also registered 10 blocks in the winning effort, while Nellie Spicer posted a double-double of her own with 57 assists and 18 digs. UCLA (6-1) posted 75 kills for the match versus Valpo's 62, but the Crusaders held a narrow .145-.144 edge in hitting percentage.
Valparaiso (8-2) returns to action Saturday at the InnTowner Invitational, taking on Villanova at noon. The Crusaders conclude their weekend action later that night, facing off against the host Badgers at 7 p.m.