Valparaiso took down a pair of teams Friday at the Lady Topper Invitational in Bowling Green, Ky., coming from behind to defeat Tennessee Tech 3-2 (25-10, 23-25, 22-25, 25-17, 15-10) in the morning before downing Furman 3-1 (25-13, 27-29, 25-18, 26-24) in the evening. With the wins, the Crusaders improved to 7-1 on the year, matching the second-best eight-match start to a season in program history.
Senior Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) was the highlight of the day for the Crusaders. The middle hitter put down 18 kills on .488 hitting, including three kills in the decisive fifth set, to go along with five blocks in Valpo’s morning win. She followed against the Paladins with 17 more kills, swinging at a .500 clip on the match.
“Allison was a real bright spot for us today,” said Avery. “She turned in fabulous performances in both matches, and it’s really great to see her rounding back into form as we get ready for the start of league play.”
The Crusaders rolled over the Golden Eagles in the first set of their morning match, hitting .419 to TTU’s -.027 to go up one set to none. But Tennessee Tech put together strong offensive performances in the next two sets, hitting .343 in the second frame and .414 in the third set to pull within one set of the match victory.
But Valpo would not give in to the Golden Eagles, taking the lead in the fourth set from the opening point and never relinquishing it. Sears led the offense in the set, putting down kills on all five of her attempts, as the Crusaders hit .444 for the frame to send the match to the first-to-15 finale. In the finale, Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) registered kills for each of Valpo’s first three points en route to four kills on the set as the Crusaders again led start-to-finish to claim the match.
Porché and Sears tied for team-high honors against Tennessee Tech (2-5) with 18 kills apiece, while Porché added 12 digs as well for a double-double. The junior moved past former Crusader Lauren Moulton into fourth place on Valpo’s career kills chart with her 14th kill of the opener. Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) added 12 kills while Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) posted ten terminations as well to close out the four Crusaders in double figures in the category. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out 45 assists and Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) posted a match-high 25 digs on the back line.
The Crusaders’ afternoon match started much like their first match of the day, as Valpo absolutely rolled Furman in the opening set, holding the Paladins to just seven kills to take the opener. But Furman responded in the second set, overcoming 21 kills by the Crusaders to even the match at one set apiece in extra points.
Bollenbacher led Valpo in the critical third set, tying for team-high honors with five kills and picking up nine digs. The Crusaders also went on a 4-0 spurt on her serve early on in the set to go ahead 9-5 and never led by less than three the remainder of the set.
The fourth set was a much tougher challenge for Valpo, as the frame featured 18 ties and five lead changes. Many of those ties came late in the set, with the two teams coming together at 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 points to send the frame right down to the wire. Furman’s Nicole Palazzo picked up a kill at 23-23 to give the Paladins a chance to send the match to a fifth set, but Valpo responded by going to one of the best offensive weapons in program history, as Porché tallied kills for points 24, 25 and 26 in succession to give Valpo the match.
Porché again tied for team-high kill honors with Sears, knocking down 17 kills, and also tied for the team lead in digs with 17 for her second double-double of the day. Bollenbacher ended the match with a double-double as well, posting 12 kills and 17 digs, as the Crusaders out-killed Furman (5-5) by a 64-40 margin.
Malicoat moved closed to Valpo’s all-time digs record in the nightcap, registering 17 digs of her own to give her 1,833 career digs, just 54 shy of Sara Silcox’s Valpo record. Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) chipped in 13 digs as well as the Crusaders totaled 78 digs on the match to Furman’s 58.
“I feel fortunate to come out of today 2-0, as we need to sharpen our mental focus to eliminate silly errors,” said Avery. “But when push came to shove today, we really did some great things to win some key points that enabled us to win both matches. I was really happy with our play in the back row in both matches, because we picked up a lot of good digs to keep us in points and give our offense a chance to finish rallies.”
Valparaiso (7-1) closes out play at the Lady Topper Invitational on Saturday afternoon with a matchup against host WKU, which enters the weekend receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 poll, at 1 p.m. CDT. The match can be heard live on www.sportsjuice.com, and links to audio and live stats can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.