Valparaiso took game three in extra points at league leader Milwaukee Sunday afternoon and sent game four into extra points, but could not prevail, as the Panthers earned a 3-1 (30-18, 30-21, 33-35, 31-29) victory over the Crusaders.
“I was very proud today how we came out and were aggressive after a lackluster first two games,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We really grew up a lot as a team this weekend, getting contributions from many different players from every position on the court. That production is what we need if we’re going to continue to win matches.”
The first two games both featured long runs by the Panthers. Milwaukee held a slight 15-14 advantage in the opener before taking the next eight points en route to closing the game on a 15-4 run. In the second game, the Crusaders had closed UWM’s lead to 20-18 before the Panthers again got on a roll, ending the game on a 10-3 spurt to take a 2-0 lead into the break.
Game three looked like it would be the same way, as Milwaukee took an early 9-4 advantage and led 13-8 when Avery inserted sophomore Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) at setter. Bukowski helped spark the Crusader offense, which was hitting just .039 to that point in the match, to a .287 hitting percentage the rest of the way. Avery said of Bukowski, “Kim did a really great job coming in off of the bench and getting our offense going in the right direction. It says a lot about her that she was able to enter in the middle of a crucial game and play so well.”
The Crusaders fought back and took their first lead of the game at 19-18, and it would remain tight the rest of the way. With the two squads tied at 25, Valpo and Milwaukee traded the next 16 points, with the Panthers saving five game points. But on the sixth opportunity, the Crusaders were the beneficiaries of a UWM attack error to send the match to game four.
Valpo trailed for much of game four as well, and were down as much as seven points at 24-17. But the Crusaders once again fought back, scoring 10 of the next 12 points to take a 27-26 lead. Milwaukee scored three of the next four to earn a match point at 29-28, but Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) registered a kill to tie the game at 29. On Milwaukee’s second match point, Bollenbacher went up for an attack that was long with no touch called to give the Panthers the match.
“It was unfortunate the match ended on a tough call like that, but those things don’t always go your way,” said Avery. “Val did a great job throughout the match getting her swing back to where it needs to be, and it was nice to see her do it against a good team like Milwaukee.”
Bollenbacher ended the match with 16 kills, second only to Angie Porché’s (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) 19, and hit at a .244 clip. Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) chipped in 12 kills on .267 hitting for the Crusaders. Bukowski dished out 30 assists on the afternoon, while Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led all players with 20 digs.
Leanne Felsing paced Milwaukee (16-2, 7-1 Horizon) with 19 kills on .529 hitting and registered a triple-double, also picking up 28 assists and 11 digs. Becky Peters led the Panthers with 17 digs, while Maddie Sueppel added 12 kills and nine blocks.
Valparaiso (14-6, 5-3 Horizon) gets a 12-day break from League play, and returns to the court next Friday for a non-conference matchup with former Mid-Continent Conference foe IUPUI. First serve in Indianapolis is set for 6 p.m. CDT.