Valparaiso continued its stretch of torrid play, sweeping Green Bay (25-18, 25-23, 25-14) Saturday afternoon at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders have now won nine of their last ten matches and moved within a game of first place in the Horizon League standings with the victory.
“You could tell that both teams had tough matches the night before and that it was a quick turnaround to today, because it wasn’t a very pretty match by either team mentally or physically tonight,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I thought the difference was that we dug a ton of balls to keep points alive and eventually turned them into kills.”
The first set featured long runs by both squads, but it was the Crusaders who put together the biggest spurts. With the score 4-3 early, an Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) kill sparked a 9-0 run, highlighted by two kills apiece from Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), to put Valpo seemingly in control at 13-3.
But after the Phoenix’s second timeout, it came out of the break and turned the tables on Valpo, going on a 12-3 run of its own to close back to within 16-15. But Green Bay could not tie up the opener, as Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) started a 7-0 spurt with a kill and would add two more terminations during the run to clinch the first set in the Crusaders’ favor.
Green Bay controlled the early portions of the second set and led almost halfway through the frame at 12-6. Again, however, the Crusaders put together a big run, this time of the 13-4 variety, led by three kills and a block from Porché, to take a three-point edge at 19-16. Valpo’s advantage got up to four points at 23-19 before Green Bay put together four straight to tie the set up at 23 apiece. But a service error gave the Crusaders set point, and Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) immediately converted with an ace to send Valpo into the in-game break up two sets.
The third, and ultimately final, set was close early as the teams were all square at 5-5. Valpo took advantage of three Phoenix errors and a pair of blocks by Newton to go on an 8-1 spurt and pull ahead by a 13-6 tally. Green Bay was not through fighting, however, as it immediately scored four consecutive points to stay in the set and remained as close as four points at 18-14. But a service error gave the Crusaders a five-point edge and the serve, and Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) pushed points all the way to the final margin, tallying three aces during the match’s concluding run, while freshman Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) got the match-ending kill.
“The key to our success has been our ability to keep so many balls off the ground,” said Avery. “It’s just really fun to watch this team come together and experience success when we’re playing like we have been recently.”
Porché paced the offensive attack with 11 kills, and while she was the only Crusader to reach double-figures in the category, the Valpo attack was balanced, as five different players registered at least six terminations. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) ran the offense to a .250 hitting percentage, dishing out 37 assists.
Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) stood out on the back row for Valpo Saturday, recording 27 digs in the sweep, matching the third-most digs in a three-set match in Crusader history. She was not alone on the back line, however, as Wise tallied 13 digs while Bollenbacher and Porché each picked up 11 digs. Newton led the way at the net with a season-high six blocks.
“Tara really had a good night both offensively (9 kills, .438 hitting) and defensively,” said Avery. “She has been playing some very good volleyball this year and has improved a great deal from this point last season. Our back row again was stellar. Angie and Val both had good matches in the back, and Haley had another outstanding match to go with her effort last night. Brittany especially was fabulous today, she made a number of key digs that helped us win crucial points.”
Green Bay (8-13, 4-7 Horizon) was led by Abby Bergsma, who picked up nine kills on .348 hitting. Megan Elfering tallied 19 digs to lead the Phoenix.
Valpo held the advantage in all the major stat categories over Green Bay. The Crusaders out-killed the Phoenix, 43-37, and picked up four service aces to two for Green Bay. Valpo also registered 73 digs versus 54 for the Phoenix and out-blocked them, 6.5-4.0.
Valparaiso (16-6, 7-4 Horizon) improved to 7-1 at the ARC this year with the win, the seventh straight year the Crusaders have won at least seven home matches. They will look to continue their recent success next weekend, but it will be on the road, as Valpo travels to Youngstown State on Friday for a 6 p.m. CDT first serve. The match can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live video and statistics.