(Lynwood, Ill./Thornton-Fractional South) had more kills than any Crusader this season and Sara Hughes
(San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg, Ohio, H.S.) had the second best passing night in program history, but the Brown and Gold dropped a heartbreaking 25-30, 30-28, 21-30, 30-27, 18-16 decision Friday night at Western Illinois.
The loss was Valpo's second Mid-Con defeat in as many Fridays, and secured the first two-loss conference season for the Crusaders since 2002. The Brown and Gold have lost only four times in Mid-Con play since the start of the 2003 season, and all four defeats have come in five games.
Friday, Valpo burst out strong in search of their 13th win in a row over the Westerwinds, taking game one 30-25 on the strength of a .500 hitting percentage, highlighted by six kills each from Tiffany Meikle
(Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) and Nicole Schulz
(Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran). Hughes, en route to 78 assists on the night, had 23 in game one assisted on all but one of Valpo's 24 kills in the game.
After dropping a tight game two, the Crusaders closed game three on a 16-6 run to move within one game of taking the match, but again in game four Western Illinois squeaked out a win to force a fifth game.
In the decisive game, Valpo raced out quickly to an 11-6 lead behind three quick Porché kills. But the Westerwinds scored the next five points on four consecutive Valpo attack errors, and eventually went ahead 15-14 on an Ashley Baker kill. The Crusaders, however, would not relent, staving off three match points before Patty Melinauskas sent the over 700 fans home happy from Western Hall with the winning kill.
Hughes, who had set a career-high with 69 assists earlier this season, finished the match with an astounding 78 assists, the second highest total in Crusader history. Only Jenny Rohren, who had 81 on Halloween of 1998, has had more assists in a single match.
The beneficiaries of all those assists, of course, were the Valpo hitters, five of whom racked up double-digit kills. The freshman Porché led that charge with a career-high 23 kills and a .306 hitting percentage. Jessie Fox
(Granger, Ind./Penn) was next with 17 kills, the sixth straight match the senior has reached double-figures.
Miekle, who had been battling for playing time before a strong performance against Oral Roberts last weekend, had a career-high 16 kills to go along with 17 digs and two aces. Schulz, with 14, and Allison Sears
(Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), who had 13, also reached the double-figure mark. Valpo had 86 kills as a team, the fourth highest single-match total in program history.
Ashley Baker led Western Illinois (7-10, 3-0 Mid-Con) with 23 kills, hitting .386. The Crusaders had a higher hitting percentage than the Westerwinds, but the hosts had 11 blocks to only six for Valpo.
The Brown and Gold (11-7, 2-2 Mid-Con) will look to right the ship Saturday night when they take on UMKC at 7:00 p.m. in Kansas City, Mo. Valpo will be back at home next Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m., taking on IUPUI and Chicago State respectively.