*UIC at Valparaiso - Friday, Sept. 21 - 7 p.m.
*Loyola at Valparaiso - Saturday, Sept. 22 - 4 p.m.
The Matchups: Valparaiso kicks off its first season of Horizon League play this weekend, hosting UIC and Loyola at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The two Chicagoland opponents are two of the Crusaders’ most common foes all-time, as Valpo has faced the Flames 32 times and the Ramblers 29 times. Both all-time series are tilted in favor of the opponents (UIC 20-12; Loyola 24-5), but under Carin Avery, Valpo is 2-2 against Loyola and 3-1 against UIC.
Last Meetings: Valparaiso downed both UIC (30-28, 28-30, 35-33, 30-27) and Loyola (25-30, 30-25, 28-30, 30-23, 15-6) on its way to the 2006 Chicagoland Classic championship last year. Against the host Flames, Jessie Fox led the way with 19 kills on .390 hitting. Three other Crusaders reached double digits in kills in the tight victory. A balanced attack helped take down the Ramblers, as five Valpo players finished with at least 10 kills, led by 15 apiece from Angie Porché and Nicole Schulz. Allison Sears chipped in 13 kills and seven blocks, while Brittany Marks registered 26 digs.
Last Weekend: Valparaiso took second place at the Bowling Green Best Western Invitational, downing Duquesne and DePaul in three-game matches before falling to the host Falcons in five games. The Crusaders, who hit at a .351 clip for the tournament, placed Angie Porché and Allison Sears on the All-Tournament Team.
On The Air: WVUR (95.1 FM - Valparaiso) will broadcast both of this weekend’s matches live over the airwaves. Valparaiso’s campus radio station is planning on broadcasting all 29 Crusader regular season volleyball matches this year, plus any matches as part of the Horizon League Championships. Most matches will be carried over the station’s airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics, while select matches may be carried on www.sportsjuice.com.
Pre-Conference Prowess: Under Carin Avery, Valparaiso has been remarkably consistent in pre-conference play. Since 2002, the Crusaders are 55-22 (.714) in matches prior to their first league match, including an 8-3 (.727) mark this season. The three losses this year matches the fewest prior to the start of conference play by a Crusader team under Avery, tying the 2004 and 2005 teams, both of which went 9-3 before league play. Both of those teams ended up advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Change in the Blueprint?: Avery’s first few teams at Valpo were renowned for their defensive prowess, consisently ranking among the top teams in the nation and setting single-season school records in both digs and blocks. The 2006 squad won games on the other side of the net, however, as it set school records for kills, assists and hitting percentage. This season’s squad is taking care of business on the offensive end as well, leading the Horizon League in assists/game and hitting percentage and ranking a close second behind Milwaukee in kills/game. Nationwide, Valpo ranks 22nd in assists/game, 27th in kills/game and 36th in hitting percentage.
Swinging Away: The Crusaders entered last weekend swinging at a solid .222 clip for the season. They ended the weekend hitting .256 on the season thanks to an impressive .351 hitting percentage at the Bowling Green Invitational. Valpo kicked off the weekend hitting at an astounding .426 clip against Duquesne, registering 59 kills versus just 13 attack errors. Incredibly, the next morning, the Brown and Gold was nearly as effective, tallying 43 kills and just nine attack errors for a .425 hitting percentage in the sweep of DePaul.
Aces Wild: The Crusaders have also utilized the service line as an offensive weapon this year, tallying 90 aces through the first 11 matches of the season. Their 2.31 service aces/game lead the Horizon League by 0.57/game and rank 27th among all Division I schools. Valpo matched a program record for aces in a sweep by registering 16 on Sept. 1 against St. Francis. No one person has shouldered the load in the category, as five Crusaders have reached double-digit aces already.
Crusaders Tabbed Third: The Horizon League coaches have picked Valparaiso to finish third in its first season of play in the league. The Crusaders tallied 50 points and two first-place votes in the polling, in which a first-place vote is worth eight points. Milwaukee is the preseason favorite to win the championship, garnering 58 points and five first-place votes, followed by Cleveland State. UIC, Green Bay, Loyola, Wright State, Butler and Youngstown State round out the polling.
A Trio of Seniors: The 2007 Crusaders feature three seniors: setter Sara Hughes, outside hitter Tiffany Meikle and right side hitter Nicole Schulz. All three seniors were members of the team’s starting lineup last year and look to be again this year. This senior class has gone 79-25 in their first three years and have made two appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Force in the Middle: Junior middle blocker Allison Sears earned Offensive Player of the Week accolades from the Horizon League for her performance this past weekend at the Bowling Green Invitational. Sears, who received All-Tournament honors for the second straight weekend, kicked off the weekend with 17 kills and just two attack errors against Duquesne, good for a blazing hitting percentage of .625, the best single-match performance in the League this year. She followed with a nearly as effective performance the next morning against DePaul, tallying 13 kills on just 19 swings for a .579 hitting percentage. Against Bowling Green, Sears chipped in 12 kills and three blocks. For the weekend, the junior hit at an incredible .507 clip, averaging 4.67 kills/game. She currently ranks among the top-five in the League in hitting percentage, kills, service aces and blocks.
Blasting Away: Sophomore outside hitter Angie Porché also earned All-Tournament accolades for the second consecutive weekend at the Bowling Green Invitational. Porché swung at a .407 clip for the tournament, averaging 4.18 kills/game while also chipping in 2.18 digs/game, second-best among the Crusaders. The sophomore kicked off the tournament with a stellar 14-kill, nine-dig effort while hitting .565 against Duquesne. She also led Valpo against the host Falcons with 24 kills, hitting at a .347 clip, and a career-best 13 digs, her first career double-double. On the season, Porché is averaging a team-best 4.22 kills/game, good for second in the Horizon League.
Back-Row Bastion: Junior libero Brittany Malicoat moved onto Valpo’s all-time digs chart last weekend, surpassing Cyndi Norman for 10th place on the list with dig number 1,138. Malicoat continued to lead Valpo on the back line at the Bowling Green Invitational, picking up 18 digs against Duquesne, 14 versus DePaul and 24 against the host Falcons. The junior extended her streak of matches leading the Crusaders in digs to 53. She has also recorded at least 10 digs in 29 straight outings.
Setting the Pace: Senior setter Sara Hughes quarterbacked the Crusader offense to a .351 hitting percentage at the Bowling Green Invitational last weekend. Hughes dished out 123 assists over the three tournament matches, and registered a double-double in the finale against the Falcons, tallying 54 assists and 13 digs.
Right Side Wrecker: Senior right side hitter Nicole Schulz had a quiet, but every effective, weekend attacking for the Crusaders. Schulz hit .750 with six kills against Duquesne and tallied kills on each of her four attacks versus DePaul. She closed the tournament with 15 kills on .353 hitting to go along with five blocks against Bowling Green. For the weekend, Schulz hit .478 with 2.78 kills/game.