It took a resilient effort for Valparaiso to continue its winning streak Saturday afternoon, as the Crusaders had to rally from late deficits in each of the final two sets on their way to a 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 26-24) victory over UIC in Chicago, Ill.
The win extended the Crusaders’ overall winning streak to ten matches, tying the second-longest winning streak in program history. Valpo has also won eight straight matches in Horizon League play, remaining just one-half game back of the top spot in the standings, and have captured 18 consecutive sets in league action.
The first set was tight in the early stages, as the two squads were tied on five occasions, the latest coming at 9-9. A kill by Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) followed by a Flame attack error gave the Crusaders a two-point edge. A Valpo service error cut the lead back down to one point, but the Crusaders proceeded to roll off seven of the next nine points, getting two kills apiece from Sears and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) during the spurt to pull ahead 18-12. Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) closed the opener with a kill. Valpo would not let the Flames pull any closer than five the rest of the way as
The second set presented a greater challenge for the Crusaders. Again it was close early, but this time it was UIC which put together a run mid-set, as the Flames went on a 5-1 spurt to go ahead by four points. UIC still led by two points at 18-16 before Valpo went on a 4-0 run, including kills by Sears and Bollenbacher, to go ahead 20-18. The Flames registered the next two points to tie the frame at 20 apiece, but the Crusaders ran off four more consecutive points to earn five set points, and Porché converted on the third opportunity to send Valpo into the in-game break up two sets to none.
The ultimately decisive third frame proved to be even more of a test of the Crusaders’ mettle. Up 12-10 midway through the set after kills by Porché and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), Valpo committed four straight attack errors, followed by a UIC kill that extended the Flames’ lead to 15-12. UIC would maintain a one-to-three point advantage for most of the remainder of the set and still led the Crusaders at 22-19.
But it was at that point that Valpo’s offensive attack, which entered the week leading the nation in both kills/set and assists/set, found its rhythm. First it was Sears with a kill, and then Porché registered a termination to force a Flames timeout. Out of the stoppage, Porché came up with another kill to tie up the set at 22 apiece and Newton followed with a kill of her own to give the Crusaders the lead at 23-22. An attack error by Valpo tied the set at 23, but Porché and Newton proceeded to combine on a block to give the Crusaders match point. Their first chance to finish the match was turned away by a UIC kill, but the Flames committed a service error and an attack error to close out the action.
Porché picked up a match-best 17 kills to lead Valpo’s offensive attack, while Sears contributed ten kills as well. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) handed out 45 assists on the afternoon.
Valpo’s defense carried the day Saturday, as the Crusaders allowed UIC just 26 kills and held the Flames to a meager .087 hitting percentage. Valpo recorded 52 digs on the afternoon, led by ten from Bukowski, while also tallying six blocks, including a match-high five by Sears. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) recorded just seven digs on the match, breaking her streak of consecutive matches with double-figure digs at 77 straight matches, which had been the second-longest active streak in the nation and the third-longest in NCAA history.
UIC (12-15, 5-10 Horizon) was paced by ten kills from Casie Sullivan, but she was the only Flame to reach double figures in the category. Jessica Dalke led the hosts with seven digs, while Epiphany Davis registered four blocks.
Valparaiso (21-6, 11-4 Horizon) will step out of league play for the last time during regular season action on Friday, as the Crusaders play their fourth match in a row within the city of Chicago as they take on Chicago State at 8 p.m.