Four Crusaders totaled double-digit kills and two more chipped in double-digit digs as Valpo won a thrilling 30-28, 28-30, 35-33, 30-27 decision Friday night over UIC to win on opening night at the Chicagoland Classic in Chicago, Ill.
All four games went back and forth, with the signature stretch coming late in the third game. With Valpo one point from defeat at 25-29, UIC gave their lead away with four straight errors (three attacking and one serving). But The Flames then had three more chances to close out the Crusaders, leading 30-29, 31-30 and 33-32 before Tiffany Meikle
(Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) closed it out with an ace at 35-33.
Again in game four, Valpo came back from a deficit (24-20) before closing out the match on a Jessie Fox
(Granger, Ind./Penn) kill. Fox led the Crusader attack with a match-high 19 kills while hitting .390.
For the new-look Crusaders, who returned only two starters from last season's team, three players set career highs in kills. Sophomore Allison Sears
(Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), junior Nicole Schulz
(Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) and freshman Angie Porché
(Lynwood, Ill./Thornton-Fractional South) each reached career-bests with double-digit efforts. Sears and Porché each had 14 kills, and Schulz added 12 for the Crusaders, who hit .224 for the match.
Defensively the Crusaders were paced by Fox and Sears who each had four kills, and by libero Brittany Marks
(Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) who added a match-high 18 digs. Meikle had 16 digs of her own and enjoyed a monster day behind the service line with a career-high five aces, equaling her total from her first two seasons as a Crusader.
There was one more player who also had a career night, junior setter Sara Hughes
(San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg (Ohio) H.S.). Hughes set a career-high with 52 assists, leading all players, and matched a career-best with four kills.
UIC (0-1), hosts of the two-day Chicagoland Classic, was led offensively by Ambria Springer and Katarina Nedeljkovic who each had 17 kills. The Flames hit .201 for the match and tallied 12 blocks.
The Crusaders (1-0) will round out play at the Chicagoland Classic Saturday when they square off with DePaul at 1:00 p.m. before meeting Loyola (Chicago) at 5:00 p.m.