Valparaiso used a standout defensive effort on the back line, picking up a season-best 96 digs, to kick off the second half of the Horizon League slate Friday night with a victory at the Athletics-Recreation Center over Butler, 3-1 (30-19, 30-26, 19-30, 30-22).
“Tonight was the best we’ve played in a long time,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We’ve really focused a lot in the last two weeks on our defense and the fact that our defensive intensity fuels our offensive output. Since we’re not a great blocking team, we need to dig balls to keep them in play, and I think tonight you could really tell that all the work we have put in the last couple weeks has paid off.”
Leading Valpo’s play on the back line was junior libero Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial), who registered 33 digs, third-most in a four-game match all-time at Valpo. The junior now has 475 digs on the season, seventh on Valpo’s single-season chart in the category with at least nine matches to go. On her career, Malicoat has tallied 1,423 digs, moving into fifth on Valpo’s career list during the match.
Malicoat got plenty of help on the back line, however, as sophomore Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) posted a career-best 19 digs. Sophomore Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) recorded 14 digs, while senior Tiffany Meikle (Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) picked up 12 digs to round out the four Crusaders in double figures.
“Haley did an outstanding job tonight,” said Avery. “She has had a lot of pressure put on her defensively playing behind two small setters and with the absence of Nicole up front. Attackers are swinging over our setters and at her position in the back line, and she has really stepped up to the challenge to dig a lot of balls for us. Brittany, once again, was fabulous. She looked like she had the mentality tonight that she was going to keep every attack in her area in play, and she was close to perfect in doing so.”
The Crusaders cruised to victory in the opening game, hitting at an amazing .514 clip with 20 kills to take the opener going away. The second game was tighter, as the Bulldogs fought back to tie it at 26, but two Porché kills, a Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) solo block, and a block by Layman and Porché closed out the game on a 4-0 run to put Valpo up 2-0 going into the break.
Game three turned out quite differently, though. Butler led nearly start to finish and dominated Valpo, hitting at a .304 clip for the game while holding Valpo to .000 hitting to send the match to a fourth game. The Crusaders made sure the fourth game would be the last one with a 9-1 spurt to start the finale, fueled by four kills from Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen), who finished the game with nine kills as Valpo never led by less than four the rest of the way.
Porché once again led the Crusader offense, following up a 27-kill effort at IUPUI last Friday with 26 kills against the Bulldogs on .373 hitting. Bollenbacher finished the match with 17 kills, while sophomore setter Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out 56 assists.
“Angie just continues to amaze me,” said Avery. “Teams know we’re going to set for her a lot, which puts the pressure on her to find ways to get kills, and she has done a phenomenal job of still registering kills for us. It was great to see Val get back on track in the fourth game to help us close out the match. She really terminated some key balls for us early on in the game to give us the lead.
Butler (10-12, 4-7 Horizon) was paced by Porshia Allen, who tallied 12 kills, 13 digs and seven blocks. Jessica Wolfe added 10 kills for the Bulldogs, while Nina Inic registered a team-best 20 digs. The Crusaders owned a 69-49 advantage over Butler in kills and also out-dug the visitors, 96-79.
Valparaiso (16-6, 6-3 Horizon) returns to Horizon League play Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center as the Crusaders host Wright State. First serve is slated for 5 p.m.