THIS WEEK: Valpo at Cyclone Classic in Ames, Iowa (at Iowa State, Friday 6:30 p.m. & vs. South Dakota State, Saturday at 9:00 a.m.) and Valpo at Drake (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.).
ON THE AIR: All three of this weekend's matches will be carried live, with the Iowa State and Drake matches live on 95.1 FM, WVUR, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics and the South Dakota State match available at www.sportsjuice.com. Eric Brooks and Adam Amin will voice all of the action live from Iowa.
CYCLONE CLASSIC: Just a three-team tournament this year, the Cyclone Classic has been held in Ames (under a variety of names) five of the last six seasons. Last year, Iowa State went 3-1 at their event, defeating South Dakota State, Montana and Drake before falling in three to Stephen F. Austin. The Crusaders have appeared once before in a tournament in Ames, losing to the Cyclones 3-0 in early 1995, also the last time the two faced off.
VALPO LAST WEEK: Facing a murderer's row of competition in Notre Dame, Ind. last weekend, the young Crusaders grew up and held their own against some of the country's best teams. After being swept by #6 Santa Clara, Valpo played point-for-point with #21 Notre Dame and #13 Missouri, taking a game from each team. The Brown and Gold then capped the weekend with a win, taking down Idaho in a thrilling five-game match. Valpo finished third at the four-team Shamrock Invitational, a field that didn't include the sixth-ranked Broncos.
SCOUTING IOWA STATE: Playing in the tough Big 12 Conference, Iowa State comes into the Cyclone Classic looking to keep on rolling into league play, which begins next weekend. The Cyclones are 6-2, a record that includes a demolition of Mid-Con foe UMKC Wednesday night. Iowa State won the Hawkeye Challenge earlier this season at in-state rival Iowa, and defeated host UC-Irvine at the Nike Invitational last weekend. Valpo and ISU have met three times, all between 1990-95, with the Cyclones winning each time.
SCOUTING SOUTH DAKOTA STATE: One of the teams selected to fill the void in the Mid-Continent Conference next year when Valpo departs for the Horizon League, South Dakota State is off to a fast start at 5-2 this year. The Jackrabbits won their first five matches including back-to-back wins over Pac-10 teams (Washington State and Oregon State) before losing two this weekend to #9 Wisconsin and Oklahoma. SDSU and Valpo have never met on the volleyball court, and the Jacks are facing their first Mid-Con foe of the year.
SCOUTING DRAKE: A familiar face to many Crusader volleyball fans, the Drake Bulldogs are once again led this season by second year head coach Amy Farber Knowles. The longtime Oral Roberts coach who led the Golden Eagles to six straight Mid-Con crowns, Farber Knowles is trying to rebuild a Drake program that has fallen on hard times and is only 2-5 so far this year. This is the fourth meeting between the two teams, with Valpo holding a 2-1 series lead.
WHO WILL IT BE, NOW?: At Valpo's first two in-season tournament stops of the season, the Crusaders have picked up five All-Tournament honors, including four at the Chicagoland Classic to open the season. In Chicago, Jessie Fox picked up Most Valuable Player honors at the tournament, leading the Brown and Gold to a perfect 3-0 start and a tourney title. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Brittany Marks, Allison Sears, and Angie Porché, each of whom were making their first appearances on an in-season All-Tournament team (Marks earned All-Tournament honors at the 2005 Mid-Con Tournament). Last weekend, Marks earned another All-Tournament selection at the Shamrock Invitational, making a number of big plays as the Valpo libero and netting at least 22 digs in all three matches.
HEAVYWEIGHTS MAKE HISTORY: It took three straight ranked teams to finally send Crusader Head Coach Carin Avery back on a three-match losing streak. Before the run last weekend, the last Valpo three-match losing streak came in Avery's first season, 2002, when Oral Roberts, UMKC and Loyola (Chicago) did it to the Crusaders.
NEW FACES, SAME PLACES: The Crusaders faced a big offseason challenge, replacing starters Katie Bova, Liz Mikos, Lauren Moulton, Jessi Novak and Amy Palash. So far, however, the subs have stepped right in and kept the winning going. Sears, Porché, Nicole Schulz, and Tiffany Meikle have assumed much bigger roles, and Fox, a two-year starter, has become Valpo's go-to option on the court.
PRESEASON PICKS: Despite winning the last three Mid-Con Regular Season and Tournament championships, Valpo was picked to finish second in the league this season behind Oral Roberts. The reloading Crusaders return only one starter (and their libero) from last season, and preseason number one Oral Roberts returns nearly everyone from a season ago, including Player of the Year Ori Zuzic.
QUICKLY: Valpo has won two in-season tournaments each of the last two seasons ... the Crusaders have never played in the state of Iowa under Carin Avery ... Valpo is 0-2 vs. the Big 12 under Avery.
WHO IS THIS GIRL?: Junior Nicole Schulz, who patiently waited on the bench during her first two seasons as a Crusader has erupted since she became a starter at the beginning of this season. Schulz was Valpo's most consistent offensive weapon this past weekend, hitting a team-best .325 over the four matches and racking up 54 kills, also tops on the team. Schulz broke her previous career high in kills three times in the four matches, capping it all off with a career-best 18-kill afternoon against Idaho. Schulz had more kills (54), attacks (120) and solo blocks (3) during the week than she had totaled in her first two seasons. Schulz has five double-digit kill matches this season after not once recording double-digit kills before this year began.
FRESHMAN ON FIRE: Valpo's leader in kills and attacks through this early season is none other than freshman Angie Porché who is enjoying one of the best rookie seasons in Crusader history. Porché's 95 kills in seven matches have her checking in second in the league in kills/game (3.39) and on pace for nearly 400 kills this year. The last time a freshman led the Brown and Gold in kills was Lauren Struss back in 1992. Porché had at least 14 kills in all three matches at the Shamrock Invitational, including a career-high 19 kills (hitting .395) in the Crusaders' dramatic five-game win over Idaho.
SETTING IN: Another Crusader moved into the starting lineup this season was junior setter Sara Hughes, and through the first seven matches she's done an admirable job replacing two-time Mid-Con Setter of the Year Katie Bova. Hughes, in fact, made her way into the record books Saturday at Idaho, picking up a career-high 69 assists in the five-game win. Hughes' 69 assists were the fifth-most in a five-match in school history, and the most since Jenny Rohren totaled 76 kills in October of 1999. Amazingly, Hughes' 69 assists vs. Idaho were only 100 fewer than she totaled during her first two seasons in a Valpo uniform, and one fewer than her total in the 2005 season.
HITTING HER MARKS: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks, aside from her two All-Tournament commendations in 2006, is anchoring a strong Valpo backline in only her second season as a collegian. Marks piled up three straight 20-dig matches at the Shamrock Invitational and is averaging 5.04 digs/game, third in the Mid-Con and tops on the team. After 273 digs in half of Valpo's games as a freshman, Marks has 141 digs in 28 games this year.
SEARS STOPS VANDALS: The biggest single-match performance this season came from stellar sophomore blocker Allison Sears, who pounded Idaho with 22 kills and nine blocks, both bests for any Crusader this season. Sears' numbers were easily a career high for the Elkhart, Ind. native who is at full-strength after an injury before her freshman year cost her much of the 2005 campaign. Much like fellow frontliner Schulz, Sears has blasted past her totals from last season already with 86 kills and 30 blocks. In fact, Sears' nine block against Idaho were four more than her total as a freshman, and her 22 kills were only eight shy of the 30 kills the sophomore had in 2005.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT HER: Behind all of the breakout performances early this season, Valpo still has senior middle Jessie Fox, who's picked up right where she left off last season. A two-time All-Conference honoree, Fox has at least nine kills in six of seven matches this year including 19 at UIC during the opening weekend of the season en route to the Chicagoland Classic Tournament MVP award. Fox has 75 kills and 25 blocks so far this year.
TIME TO WISE UP: Used sparingly during the season's opening weekend, freshman Haley Wise got a first chance to prove herself at the Shamrock Invitational, and the defensive specialist acquitted herself nicely, with a career day against #13 Missouri. The freshman picked up 10 digs against the Tigers, one of five Crusaders with double-digit digs in the match, and added two aces. Wise also picked up her first kill last Friday against #6 Santa Clara.