On a night in which multiple Horizon League dignitaries, including Commissioner Jonathan LeCrone, were in attendance for Valparaiso’s first-ever home League contest in any sport, Nicole Schulz (Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) made some history of her own, setting a school record for hitting percentage in a five-game match and leading the Crusaders to a come-from-behind 3-2 (30-24, 22-30, 25-30, 30-22, 15-7) victory over UIC.
“It was exciting to be the first team to have a home game in League play,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “To be recognized and to have Commissioner LeCrone in attendance was a great honor for our program. I am glad that Nancy (Mueller) and the UIC program were able to be our opponent for this important day, as I have the utmost respect for them.”
Schulz swung at a .739 clip for the match, registering 17 kills with no errors on 23 attacks, to shatter the previous five-game hitting percentage record of .500, held by Beth Hendricks. Schulz’s performance was fifth-best for any length match in Crusader history, and is the highest hitting percentage by any Crusader all-time with at least 20 attacks.
“If Nicole had not shown up tonight, we would have lost this match,” said Avery. “She put together one of the most amazing individual performances that I have seen in a long time.”
The Crusaders started the match looking much like the team offensively that took the court last weekend, hitting at a sterling .486 clip in the opening game and getting six kills apiece from Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) to take the early lead. Game two was a different story, however, as the Flames held Valpo to a .140 hitting percentage to go into the break knotted up at a game apiece.
UIC took over offensively in game three, picking up 18 kills on .500 hitting to take a two games to one edge. Valpo trailed early on at 12-5 and found itself down as many as nine points on multiple occasions, the latest being at 21-12. The Crusaders went on a 10-2 run from there, however, to close to within 23-22, but could not tie up the game.
Buoyed by their comeback in the middle game, the Crusaders once again came out firing on all cylinders in the fourth game. Schulz tallied nine kills on 13 attacks to lead Valpo’s offense while the defense held UIC to an .033 hitting percentage for the game. Valpo and UIC were tied at 17 midway through the game, but the Crusaders put together a 9-0 run to take control.
The Flames jumped out to a quick 2-1 lead in the finale, but Valpo put together a 9-1 run from that point and cruised home for the victory. Both the offense and the defense stepped up in the final game, as the Crusaders hit .500 and held UIC to a -.200 clip, blocking four Flame attacks.
Porché led the Crusaders with 21 kills and picked up her second career double-double with 14 digs. Bollenbacher also tallied 17 terminations in the victory. Valpo again excelled from the service line, recording 13 aces, with four apiece coming from Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central).
Newton also paced the Crusaders in blocks, registering a career-high six rejections. On the night, Valpo tallied a season-best 12 blocks. Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) also set a new career best with five blocks, while Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie), making her first career start, had four rejections to go along with six kills. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) once again led all players with 27 digs.
“This was a great win for us, to get us back on track after last Saturday,” said Avery. “It shows us that we can compete at a very high level. I was proud of our two freshmen middles (Newton and Layman); they did an outstanding job tonight for us. I was also happy to see our resiliency, as we struggled early on, but were able to step up and come from behind at the end.”
The Crusaders held a very significant 78-52 advantage in kills over UIC (8-6, 1-2 Horizon), which was paced by 18 kills and 11 digs from Katerina Hanackova. Valpo also registered 63 digs to the Flames’ 54, while both teams picked up 12 blocks.
Valparaiso (9-3, 1-0 Horizon) returns to the ARC Saturday afternoon, as League play continues against Loyola (Chicago). First serve is set for 4 p.m., with a pregame ceremony scheduled to honor the Crusaders’ 2003 squad, the first Valpo volleyball team to appear in the NCAA Tournament.