Valparaiso outkilled league-leading Milwaukee by a 60-37 margin Friday night at the Athletics-Recreation Center en route to a 3-1 (22-25, 26-24, 25-10, 25-21) victory over the Panthers.
“Again, I’m just so proud of this team,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “It’s always great when you can knock off the top team in the league, and it pulls us closer to the top of the standings. I thought tonight was a total team effort. We really have been focusing on our defense transition and I thought you could tell tonight. We did a wonderful job in that aspect and ended up out-digging Milwaukee and almost out-blocking them as well.”
The Crusader offense, which has dominated opponents all season long and currently leads the nation in kills/set, out-killed Milwaukee by 23 terminations, the ninth time this year they have out-killed their opposition by at least 20. Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led the way offensively for the third straight match, registering 20 kills on .289 hitting, while Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) picked up 16 kills to bump her career total to 1,448 kills, just 57 shy of Valpo’s all-time leader in the category.
The first set was a close affair, but was controlled by the Panthers for the most part. Down 15-11, Valpo put together a 6-2 mini-spurt to knot up the frame at 17 apiece, keyed by two kills and two blocks by Porché, the second of which was of the solo variety. But out of the stoppage, Milwaukee put together four straight points to pull ahead 21-17, and while the Crusaders closed to within one point at 23-22, Milwaukee tallied back-to-back points to close out the opener.
Trailing by a set, it was the Crusaders who jumped on top early in the second set, going ahead 9-3 and forcing a Panther timeout. Milwaukee would not let Valpo pull ahead by any more than six points, however, slowly crawling back into contention and eventually tying the set at 21-21 after a pair of Crusader attack errors.
Porché tallied back-to-back kills on the next two points to put Valpo ahead 23-21, but a kill by Kerri Schuh followed by a Crusader attack error tied it up again at 23. An attack error by the Panthers gave the Crusaders their first set point, but Natalie Schmitting knotted the frame right back up at 24. That was it for Milwaukee, though, as Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) tallied both the penultimate and deciding kills to send the match into the in-game break at a set apiece.
The third set was far and away all Valpo. Milwaukee burned both its timeouts by the time it was 12-5 Crusaders, and Valpo did not let up, going on another 10-2 run later in the set to close the Panthers out and go ahead two sets to one. The Crusaders hit at a scintillating .423 clip in the third frame while holding Milwaukee to a -.103 attack percentage.
Valpo went ahead for good in a final set that saw eight ties and three lead changes at 10-9, starting a 5-1 run that put it ahead 14-10. The Panthers kept fighting, however, crawling back to within two points at 21-19 after a service ace and forcing a Valpo timeout. Porché again stepped up when the Crusaders needed her most, though, sandwiching a Milwaukee attack error with two kills to give Valpo match point at 24-19. The Panthers staved off the first two attempts, but Porché closed out the match with her 16th kill to give Valpo the win.
In the back row, Porché led the way as well, registering a season-best 20 digs for a double-double. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) tallied 18 digs of her own, while Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) picked up 13 and Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) chipped in 12. Sears registered a team-best six blocks, while Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out 53 assists running the Crusader offense.
“Allison had another great performance on both sides of the ball, and I thought Angie was just as good in the back row as she was up front tonight,” said Avery. “I just thought we did a really good job taking care of the ball, and great things happened because of that. Haley, especially, did a great job in the back row tonight. She often does a lot of things that people don’t notice, and when she’s as good as she was tonight, we are a much better team.”
Milwaukee (15-7, 8-2 Horizon) was led by 12 kills from Becky Peters, while Kerri Schuh added ten terminations. Morgan Potter paced the Panther back row with 13 digs.
Valparaiso (15-6, 6-4 Horizon) improved to 6-1 at the ARC this year with the victory and maintained its position ½ game back of the second spot in the league standings. The Crusaders will look for their ninth win in the last ten matches Saturday at 4 p.m. as they host Green Bay. All the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live statistics and video.