THIS WEEK: IUPUI at Valpo (Friday, 7:00 p.m.) & Chicago State at Valpo (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.)
ON THE AIR: WVUR, 95.1 FM, in Valpo will carry both of this weekend's matches live over the airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Mike Haase and Adam Amin will have the call Friday with Miles Janssen and Eric Brooks handling the play-by-play on Saturday.
THE MATCHUPS: The Crusaders have dropped their Friday night match each of the last two weekends and will try to reverse that trend with a key contest against IUPUI Friday. The Jaguars can shuffle Valpo back toward the pack with a win while the Brown and Gold can assert themselves as one of the league's top teams by coming out on top. Saturday, former Mid-Con member Chicago State comes to town looking for a rare win.
VALPO LAST WEEK: Valpo saw their 12-match winning streak over Western Illinois come to an end last Friday with a heartbreaking five-game loss in Macomb, Ill. The Brown and Gold won games one and three, but dropped close decisions in games two and four before falling 18-16 in game five. Saturday, Valpo righted the ship with a three-game win over UMKC in Kansas City, Mo. The Crusaders have earned all of their Mid-Con wins in three games but suffered each loss in five games.
SCOUTING IUPUI: The up and down Jaguars enter this weekend 6-14 overall and an even 2-2 in the Mid-Con. IUPUI went just 3-11 through the opening stretch of the non-conference season and then lost their conference opener in three games at Oral Roberts. But since then The Jags are 3-2, earning back-to-back conference wins over UMKC and Centenary and taking down Chicago State last Saturday at home. Junior Carol Newell has been IUPUI's hitter of choice, averaging 3.25 kills/game and hitting .154, tops among hitters on the team. Valpo leads the all-time series 13-12 but only by virtue of six straight wins over the Jaguars. The Crusaders have knocked IUPUI from each of the last two Mid-Con Tournaments, doing so both times in the semis.
SCOUTING CHICAGO STATE: In their first year out of the Mid-Continent Conference, the Division I independent Cougars are 0-21 on the year after a loss Tuesday to DePaul. IUPUI took down the Cougars in three games at the Dickens Center in Chicago on Saturday, holding the hosts to a .010 hitting percentage. Sunday, the Cougars hosted IPFW and suffered a four-game defeat, taking game three from a tough Mastodon team but falling 30-17 in game four. Jessica Khouri has been Chicago State's top hitter, averaging 1.94 kills/game with a .093 hitting percentage. As a team, the Cougars are hitting only .027 this season. All-time, Valpo leads the series 31-1, winning 31 straight since losing to the Cougars in 1983, the first time the two schools faced off.
DOING IT ON BOTH ENDS: The Crusaders have been a strong team both offensively and defensively this season and the numbers reflect it. Valpo has averaged 15.35 kills/game this season, second in the Mid-Con, a number that grew substantially after the Crusaders put down 143 kills in eight games last weekend. Three different Valpo hitters are averaging at least 3.00 kills/game, and four of the top seven players in that statistic in the Mid-Con are Crusaders. On the defensive end, Valpo ranks third in the Mid-Con in blocks/game at 2.38 despite the graduation of Liz Mikos, the top blocker in program history. Three Crusaders are averaging better than 0.97 blocks/game on the year, and Valpo boasts two of the top six blockers in the conference.
THE BIG KILL: Speaking of offense, the Brown and Gold had a monster offensive day in a losing effort at Western Illinois last weekend. Valpo put up 86 kills against the Westerwinds, the fifth highest single-match total in school history and the most since 1999. The Crusaders also posted 81 assists, the second most in school history.
HOME SWEET HOME: The Crusaders have done some great work on their home court over the last few seasons, a trend they'll be looking to continue this weekend. Valpo had a 23-match home court winning streak snapped the last weekend they were at the ARC, suffering a five-game setback at the hands of Oral Roberts. Before that loss, the Brown and Gold had dropped only two matches since 2003 at home, once to open the 2004 season against Michigan, and losing in five to IUPUI at home, this Friday's opponent, in late 2003.
PRESEASON POLL: The Mid-Con's seven head coaches picked the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles to end Valpo's run at the top of the league this season, and so far they've been right on, with the Crusaders sitting third in the league at 3-2. In the preseason poll, Valpo checked in second with Western Illinois third, IUPUI fourth, Oakland fifth, UMKC sixth and Centenary seventh. The Westerwinds earned the one first place vote not given to the Golden Eagles in the league.
QUICKLY: After Saturday, Valpo will have squared off on the court against Chicago State more times (33) than any other opponent.
STEADY LIKE A FOX: Senior middle blocker Jessie Fox has been on quite a run since getting out of the gate a little slowly this season. The two-time All-Conference star has seen her biggest production on the offensive end, netting double-digit kills in seven straight matches and eight of the last nine. Fox's streak began back on September 16 against Western Carolina, and the Granger, Ind. native has been averaging 3.35 kills/game during that stretch. Last weekend, Fox had 17 kills against Western Illinois and came back with 11 more the next night at UMKC. The senior has 906 kills in her career to go along with 375 blocks and is on pace to join Lauren Moulton as the only Crusaders to end their careers with at least 1,000 kills and 400 blocks. Fox currently stands fifth all-time in career blocks at Valpo.
FRESHMAN ON FIRE: Only 19 matches into her career, freshman Angie Porché is already one of the most feared hitters in the Mid-Con, now second in the conference in kills/game after a huge weekend on the road. Friday against the Westerwinds, Porché had 23 kills, the high recorded by any Crusader this season, and she came back the next night with another team high, scoring 14 kills against UMKC. Porché has led the team in kills in three of the last four matches and nine times overall this season. The freshman has a team-leading 239 kills this year, and she is trying to become the first rookie in 15 years (Lauren Struss, 1992) to lead the Crusaders in that category.
SCHULZ STILL SHINING: The breakout player of the year for the Brown and Gold, junior frontliner Nicole Schulz, has maintained her place among the Mid-Con leaders in hitting percentage, kills and blocks. Schulz leads the Crusaders and is third in the Mid-Con with a .316 hitting percentage, fifth in the conference at 3.12 kills/game and is third in the league with 1.17 blocks/game, also tops on the team. Schulz has played in 65 games this year after seeing time in only 35 games during her first two seasons combined.
SARA THE SETTER: With all the big attacking totals the Crusaders put up last weekend, junior setter Sara Hughes was a major part of the offense and put up some terrific numbers of her own. Hughes had 78 assists in Friday's loss to Western Illinois, the second best single-match output in the program's history. Only Jenny Rohren, who had 81 assists against UMKC in 1998, holds the school record but Hughes comes next. Her big night was just part of a big season for the junior, who had 69 assists in another five-game match this year against Idaho. Hughes is averaging 11.09 assists/game this year, second in the Mid-Con, and her career assist total is seventh all-time at Valpo.
RIGHT ON THE MARKS: Libero Brittany Marks, who has had a few jaw-dropping single-match efforts this year, took a bit of a back seat to the offense last week but was able to maintain a strong season in the back. Marks had 25 digs Friday and then came back Saturday with 26 digs in only three games. Her effort tied for the third most digs in a three-game match in school history, four behind her own school record of 30 set earlier this season against Drake. Marks is second in the league with a 5.33 digs/game average and is on pace to become the first Crusader to ever average 5.00 digs/game in a year.
SEARS CASHES IN: The quietest of Valpo's solid frontline players, Allison Sears had another quiet but good night Friday, tallying 13 kills on 23 attacks for a .348 hitting percentage and adding a team-best four blocks. Sears is averaging 3.00 kills/game this season, sixth in the Mid-Con, and ranks second on the team in kills, third in attacks, third in blocks and second in solos.
MEYER TO THE RESCUE: With Schulz on a one-match hiatus Saturday against the Kangaroos, sophomore Jill Meyer stepped into the starting lineup for the first time in her career and had a fine all-around night. Meyer set career highs in kills (7), attacks (17), blocks (4) and solos (2) in the Valpo win.