THIS WEEK: Illinois State at Valpo (Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.), Valpo at Oakland (Friday, 6:00 p.m.), and IPFW at Valpo (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.)
ON THE AIR: WVUR, 95.1 FM, in Valpo will carry all three of this week's matches live over the airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics. Eric Brooks and Maggie Foley will have the call of Tuesday's match, with Friday's and Saturday's announcers to be determined.
THE MATCHUPS: The Crusaders take on the Redbirds of Illinois State for the first time in program history on Tuesday. Valpo holds a 14-3 series edge over the Golden Grizzlies, which includes 12 straight victories (dating back to 2000) over their conference foe. The recent history against IPFW is not as kind for the Crusaders, however, as the Mastodons downed Valpo in three straight last year, and hold a 10-5 edge in the series.
VALPO LAST WEEK: Valpo got back on the winning track last week, sweeping matches over IUPUI and Chicago State. The Brown and Gold used a balanced offense to get the job done against the Jaguars, as four Crusaders finished with double-figure kills, led by 12 from Allison Sears. Sears also led Valpo with six blocks, as the team recorded ten total blocks. The Crusaders had an easier task against the Cougars, hitting a season-best .454 while holding CSU to a -.013 hitting percentage in a dominating performance.
SCOUTING ILLINOIS STATE: The Redbirds have been a streaky team throughout the first half of the season, putting together two three-match winning streaks and losing streaks on their way to a 9-10 record. Illinois State comes to Valpo off of a loss in three straight at Northern Iowa on Saturday. Kari Staehlin leads the Redbird offense, hitting at a .245 clip with 3.5 kills per game, while Kasey Mollerus paces the back row with 4.75 digs/gm.
SCOUTING OAKLAND: The Golden Grizzlies have struggled throughout the 2006 season, winning their first match of the year last week over Chicago State, making their record 1-17. Oakland has been unable to sustain an offensive presence, hitting just .049 as a team to date. The Golden Grizzlies have also struggled on the defensive end, registering almost four digs per game less than their opponents. Leah Dupuie has been Oakland's most potent offensive threat in 2006, putting up 2.29 kills per game, but hitting at just a .063 clip. Monica Frechen is pacing the Golden Grizzlies in both hitting percentage (.128) and blocks (0.97/game), while Lauren Duquette has recorded 149 digs (3.10/game) this year.
SCOUTING IPFW: The Mastodons roll into Valpo having won 11 of their last 12 matches (pending Tuesday night's result), improving their record to 17-9 on the season. Four IPFW players are averaging at least two kills per game, led by 3.12 from Cynara Martins. Peachy Jankowski is among the nation's best on the back line, registering 5.7 digs per game.
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 15.53 kills/game this season, second in the Mid-Con, a number that grew substantially after the Crusaders put down 106 kills in just six 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 2.44 despite the graduation of Liz Mikos, the top blocker in program history. Three Crusaders are averaging better than one block/game on the year, and Valpo boasts three of the top seven blockers in the league.
ACCURACY COUNTS: The Brown and Gold put up one of their best single-match hitting performances in program history against Chicago State last Saturday. Valpo registered 55 kills and just 11 attack errors on 97 swings against the Cougars, good for a .454 hitting percentage, tying the fifth-best performance in a single match.
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 week. Valpo won two home matches last weekend after having a 23-match home court winning streak snapped in a five-game thriller against 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: Valparaiso has won its last six non-conference matches dating back to its victory Sept. 9 against Drake.
STEADY LIKE A FOX: Senior middle blocker Jessie Fox has been tearing up the court recently after a slow start. The two-time All-Conference star has seen her production skyrocket on the offensive end, running off a streak of nine consecutive matches with double-digit kills. Fox's streak began over a month ago against Western Carolina, and the Granger, Ind. native has been averaging 3.41 kills/game during that stretch while hitting at a .348 clip. Fox was especially accurate last weekend, registering 22 kills with just one attack error over the two matches, hitting .467. The senior has 928 career kills to go along with 380 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: Freshman outside hitter Angie Porché has made an enormous impact on the landscape of the Mid-Con in her first season at Valpo. She registered 18 kills on 43 attacks last week and currently sits third in the conference with 3.57 kills per game. The first-year standout has led Valpo in kills in nine of the 21 matches so far this season. Porché leads the Brown and Gold with 257 kills this year, and is trying to become the first rookie in 15 years (Lauren Struss, 1992) to lead Valpo in that category.
SCHULZ STILL SHINING: Junior middle blocker Nicole Schulz has become one of the most feared players in the conference. After biding her time behind a veteran-laden team her first two seasons, Schulz finds herself among the Mid-Con leaders in kills (3.16, 5th), hitting percentage (.318, 3rd) and blocks (1.19, 2nd). Schulz is the only player in the league to find herself in the top-10 in all three of those categories. Last weekend, despite playing in just four of the team's six games, Schulz registered 15 kills on only 28 attacks, and also posted six blocks. If Schulz can maintain her current hitting percentage, it would set the Valpo single-season record by an individual.
SARA THE SETTER: Junior setter Sara Hughes continues to rocket up the Crusaders' career assist chart after learning from two-time Mid-Con Setter of the Year Katie Bova in her first two seasons at Valpo. Hughes dished out 47 assists in just four games of action last week, yielding setting duties for two games against Chicago State to Kim Bukowski. Hughes has now totaled 811 assistson the season, on pace to move into Valpo's single-season top-10, and has 980 career helpers, seventh in Crusader history. Her average of 11.26 assists/game sits second in the Mid-Con. She will likely pass the 1,000 assist milestone in Tuesday's match against Illinois State.
RIGHT ON THE MARKS: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks has been a stellar presence on the back line for Valpo since earning the starting position just over a year ago. Marks registered double-digit digs against both IUPUI (21) and Chicago State (10) last weekend, and has now reached the 10-dig plateau 18 times in 21 matches this season. She sits third in the Mid-Con in digs per game with 5.32, and is on pace to break Sara Silcox's single-season digs record.
SEARS CASHES IN: Sophomore middle blocker Allison Sears has proven herself a solid force in the middle for Valpo this season. Sears was one of two Crusaders to tally double-digit kills in both matches last weekend, registering 12 kills against IUPUI and 11 versus Chicago State. She ranks sixth in the Mid-Con in both kills (3.07/game) and blocks (1.04/game), joining teammates Jessie Fox and Nicole Schulz as the only players in the top-10 in both.
BOLLENBACHER BREAKS OUT: Freshman outside hitter Val Bollenbacher has fought her way into the starting lineup for the Crusaders, and proved she belonged there with the best performance of her young career against Chicago State. Bollenbacher paced the Brown and Gold with 16 kills, hitting at a .481 clip for the match. She also chipped in on the back line, picking up seven digs in the sweep.