Valparaiso found its 13-match winning streak snapped Saturday afternoon in the Horizon League Championship semifinals, as sixth seed and host Cleveland State came out with a hard-fought, back and forth 3-2 (24-26, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23, 11-15) victory in Cleveland.
The first set was a microcosm of what the match would hold in store, as it featured ten tie scores. The Crusaders, after trailing early, took a 3-2 lead and held it for most of the remainder of the set. After Cleveland State had tied the frame at 19, Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) registered back-to-back kills to give Valpo a 21-19 advantage. But the Vikings scored four of the next five points to go ahead by a 23-22 count. Sears responded with another termination to tie the frame at 23, but a service error gave CSU a set point. Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) tallied a kill to tie the set at 24 apiece, but a CSU block followed by a service ace closed the opener in favor of the Vikings.
The second set was perhaps the least exciting of the match’s five frames, yet it still contained nine ties and four lead changes. Cleveland State led on multiple occasions in the early going, but the Crusaders never let the Viking lead grow to more than a single point. Trailing 10-9, a kill by Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) sparked a 10-3 Crusader run to take their advantage up to six points at 19-13. Bollenbacher added two more kills later in the run, while Porché also had a pair of finishers during the spurt. Cleveland State got as close as three points in the late stages, but Bollenbacher and Sears combined on blocks for each of Valpo’s final two points to send the match into the in-game break at a set apiece.
The third set featured 11 ties and five lead changes. Again, CSU jumped out to the early lead, with the Crusaders putting together a 5-0 run after trailing 9-6 to take an 11-9 lead. The Vikings scored four of the next five points to retake the lead and held the advantage throughout the set’s middle portion, but the Crusaders rallied again and regained the edge at 17-16 on a block by Porché and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central). After the two teams traded sideouts, Cleveland State rolled off three straight points to take the lead for good. Valpo did have one last rally, as trailing 24-21, Sears and Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) registered kills to fight off two set points, but CSU’s Amy Benz tallied a kill on the third opportunity to give the Vikings the frame.
The fourth set had nine ties and three lead changes of its own. Again it was the Vikings who jumped out to the quick advantage, and again the Crusaders put together a spurt to take the lead, gaining it at 9-8 on a block by Sears and Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West). Valpo would not lose the lead the remainder of the set, but the Vikings stayed close for the most part and were within one at 17-16. Porché recorded a kill on the next point to jump-start a quick 5-0 Crusader run to give them some breathing room up to 22-16. The extra points would come in handy, as with four set points at 24-20, Cleveland State fought off the first three attempts. But Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) tallied a kill to close out the set and send the match to its final frame.
The decisive set saw Cleveland State get the first point, but Valpo immediately asserted itself from that point. Meyer registered a kill and the teams then traded sideouts to tie the set at two. Sears and Bollenbacher recorded back-to-back terminations to give Valpo the 4-2 edge, and after a Crusader service error, Bukowski and Sears combined for a block, followed by a Porché kill to force the Vikings to use an early timeout at 6-3.
CSU’s Liz Fazio picked up back-to-back kills out of the stoppage to lower the deficit to one point, but Sears registered a kill of her own to give Valpo the 7-5 edge. A Benz kill for the Vikings was immediately negated by a Cleveland State service error to make it 8-6. A Beth Greulich kill was countered immediately with a block from Meyer and Newton to push the score to 9-7.
Cleveland State then strung together two straight points on a Benz kill and a Valpo error to tie the frame at nine, but Bollenbacher responded with her 16th kill of the match to give the Crusaders the lead again at 10-9. But yet again, the Vikings picked up back-to-back points on a Greulich kill and a Valpo hitting error to give themselves the lead at 11-10 and force a Valpo timeout.
Out of the timeout, Sears picked up her 16th kill of the match to tie the set at 11. But that would be the last point Valpo scored in the match, as Jenni Ramminger picked up a kill to give CSU the 12-11 edge. Kayla Lefeld then stepped back to the service line and tallied an ace to make it a two-point lead. Fazio followed with a kill to give the Vikings three match points, but Lefeld needed only one, recording another ace to close the contest.
The Crusaders concluded the match with four players in double figures in kills, with Bollenbacher, Porché and Sears all registering 16 terminations. Meyer added 12 kills as well as Valpo hit .257 for the match with 70 kills. Bukowski handed out 56 assists on the afternoon.
On the defensive side of the ball, Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led all players with 23 digs, while Porché recorded her second straight double-double with 11 digs of her own. At the net, Sears tallied a team-best six blocks while Bukowski was in on four rejections.
Cleveland State (10-18) was led by 16 kills without an error from Benz, who also recorded a double-double with ten blocks. Greulich tallied 13 kills, while Fazio picked up 12 and Ramminger 11. Jordan Bateman led the Vikings defensively with 20 digs.
Valparaiso (24-7) will close the 2008 campaign next weekend at Western Michigan, facing either the host Broncos or the RedHawks of Miami (Ohio). Match time and opponent will be determined early next week.