For the second time in the past two weeks, Valparaiso played right with a team receiving votes in the latest AVCA Top 25 poll, but this time, WKU pulled out the tight 3-1 (25-23, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22) victory Saturday afternoon at the Lady Topper Invitational in Bowling Green, Ky.
“We really played a very good match today,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “This is probably the first loss in the past year that I actually feel good about. When you play in early-season tournaments, you play to get better for league play, and I really thought that we did that today. Western Kentucky is a very tough opponent which played very well today and came up with key points when they needed them.”
Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) represented Valpo on the All-Tournament team after posting her second double-double of the tournament against the Lady Toppers. The junior hit at a match-high .435 clip while ending 13 rallies Saturday, and picked up ten digs on the defensive side of the ball. For the tournament, Bollenbacher registered 37 kills on .302 hitting and tallied 35 digs and five blocks.
“Val did a great job this weekend picking up where she left off last weekend,” said Avery. “I’m very excited that she earned All-Tournament honors. She really deserves the recognition for the solid performances she put together this weekend, both with her play in the front row and the back row.”
Valpo got out to a quick start in the opening set, as the Crusaders put together the first four points of the match on Brittany Malicoat’s (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) serve. WKU fought back and forged the first of nine ties in the set at 9-9. The squads traded sideouts for the most part until Valpo got kills from Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) to give it an 18-16 advantage.
But the Lady Toppers responded in turn, taking advantage of a Valpo service error to start a 5-0 spurt to go ahead 21-18. Back-to-back WKU errors brought the Crusaders back to within one point, but while Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) tallied two late kills, Valpo could never re-tie the set, as the Lady Toppers took the tight opener.
It was WKU which got out to the quick start in the second frame, taking advantage of four early Valpo errors to go ahead 9-3. The Crusaders slowly crawled back into the set, using a 5-1 run to cut the deficit to 12-11. The Lady Toppers held on to the lead for a few more points, but with the edge at 16-14, Valpo ran off four straight points to take its first lead of the set. Bollenbacher and Sears combined on two blocks, while Sears picked up a kill and Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma) registered an ace during the mini-run.
With the Crusaders still holding a 20-18 lead, Sears stepped back to the service line and put the set away. A service ace on her first serve forced a WKU timeout, and coming out of the break, Porché combined with Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) on a block to extend the lead to four points. Another Sears ace made it 23-18, and Valpo would not let the Lady Toppers any closer than two points the rest of the way as the match was tied up at one going into the in-game break.
The pivotal third set was extremely tight throughout, as neither team led by more than three points. The only Valpo leads in the frame came at 1-0 and 2-1, but the set featured 11 ties, including at 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19-all. But after a Valpo service error gave WKU a 20-19 edge, the Lady Toppers’ Emily Teegarden picked up a solo block to force the Crusaders to use a timeout.
Valpo moved back within one point after a WKU attack error, and the Lady Toppers’ next two kills were answered immediately with kills by Porché to keep the Crusaders within one. But with the score 23-22, WKU got a kill from Brittany Bowen to side out for the ninth straight time, and a Valpo attack error gave WKU the set.
The final set played out much like the second set did, as WKU jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead, forcing the Crusaders to use both timeouts in the process. Unlike the second set, however, Valpo could not string together enough consecutive points to get over the hump, as the Lady Toppers kept the Crusaders at arms length. Valpo had a ray of hope when consecutive Porché kills fought off two WKU match points, but Megan Argabright gave the Lady Toppers the match with a kill on their third attempt.
Porché paced the Crusaders with 18 kills to go along with Bollenbacher’s 13, as Valpo out-killed WKU (9-1), 56-52. Malicoat led Valpo on the back line with 19 digs, while Porché also led the Crusaders in blocks with three.
“I am very proud of this team for how they played and competed in our early-season tournaments,” said Avery. “To play as ambitious a schedule as we did and to come out with seven wins is something to be proud of.”
Valparaiso (7-2) kicks off Horizon League action on Friday, September 19 as the Crusaders continue their season-opening road swing at Butler. First serve against the Bulldogs is set for 6 p.m. CDT, and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso. Live stats and audio will also be available online at www.valpoathletics.com.