Valparaiso kicked off the 2007 volleyball season the same way that it ended the 2006 season, with a 3-1 victory over Miami (Ohio), 30-28, 23-30, 30-27, 30-25. The match was the first of two the Crusaders will play at the Redbird Classic in Normal, Ill.
The Crusaders trailed through most of game one, not taking the lead until an Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) service ace at 21-20. The game remained tight the rest of the way, with Valpo eventually taking the win. Game two went the way of the RedHawks despite Valpo hitting .303 as a team, and the two teams went into intermission tied at one game apiece.
“As a coach, you always hope your team comes out perfect,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We came out with some nerves, playing in a bigger arena in our first match of the year, but we pulled it together to win.”
Nicole Schulz (Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) led the Crusaders out of the break, putting up seven kills on 11 attacks in game three to help Valpo gain the edge and take the game. In the deciding game, the Crusaders never trailed behind six kills apiece from Sears and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South).
Porché paced the Crusaders offensively with 18 kills, while Schulz added 17 and Sears chipped in 16 of her own. Schulz, who set Valpo’s single-season hitting percentage record last season at .334, swung at a .500 clip on the night. Sears also led the team with six blocks and set a career-high with four service aces, while Schulz and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) added four blocks apiece. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) picked up 19 digs for the Brown and Gold, leading the team for the 43rd consecutive time.
Running a two-setter system, the Crusaders got good efforts from both their quarterbacks, as senior Sara Hughes (San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg, Ohio H.S.) dished out 34 assists and sophomore Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) racked up 30 helpers. Valpo also got a career-best effort off the bench from Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South), who set new career highs for kills (8) and attacks (18) while matching her previous high in blocks (4).
“Our three main attackers (Porché, Schulz, Sears) really stepped up and did their jobs,” said Avery. “But we also got great performances off the bench from Tara, Jill, and Val (Bollenbacher), and our setters did a good job of mixing up the offense and keeping Miami off-balance.”
The RedHawks were led offensively by Emily Schroeder, who hit .357 with 18 kills. Andrea Atteberry added a double-double for Miami (0-1) with 44 assists and 15 digs.
Valparaiso (1-0), which set a program record with three in-season tournament titles a year ago, will take aim at its first title of 2007 on Saturday. The Crusaders face host Illinois State at 7 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso).