The Valparaiso volleyball team closed the season on a high note Saturday evening in Kalamazoo, Mich., sweeping MAC regular season champion and host Western Michigan, 3-0 (26-24, 25-22, 25-23) in the final match of the Bronco Thanksgiving Challenge.
“Not too many teams can end their seasons with a victory, and I think it’s a great way to send out our seniors, who had phenomenal seasons and careers, with a win over a very good Western Michigan team.” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “The team was focused on winning this match for the three seniors, who have been awesome teammates and leaders for this squad. Allison and Brittany both had fantastic matches tonight, and while Jill unfortunately was unable to be with us, she was definitely with the team in spirit tonight.”
Junior outside hitter Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) led all players with 20 kills in the sweep while swinging at a .357 clip and also adding 14 digs for a double-double. Senior middle hitter Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) contributed 13 kills on .312 hitting, while junior outside hitter Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) added ten kills of her own.
Junior setter Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out a match-high 49 assists on the evening. Defensively, senior libero Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led the way on the back line for the Crusaders with 19 digs, while at the net, Sears tallied three rejections.
The Broncos jumped out to a quick 8-4 lead in the opener, their largest lead in any of the three sets. Valpo immediately responded with five consecutive points, getting kills from Porché, Bollenbacher, Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) during the spurt to take a one-point lead at 9-8. The frame would remain within one point either way until the latter stages, when at 18-18, the Crusaders reeled off four out of five points, including a pair of kills by Sears, to push to a 22-19 advantage.
WMU scored three straight points out of a timeout to knot up the set yet again at 22, but Bukowski responded with a second-touch kill to give Valpo the lead back at 23-22. After a WMU kill, Porché registered a kill to give the Crusaders set point at 24-23, but a Bronco block tied it at 24. The Broncos would hit an attack on the next point out-of-bounds to give Valpo a second chance at the opener, and the Crusaders took full advantage, as Newton ended the frame with a kill.
Valparaiso led start-to-finish in the second set, save for one brief tie score at 17 apiece. The Crusaders led by as many as three points during the early portions before the Broncos fought back for the short-lived tie. Valpo responded immediately with a Newton kill followed by a service ace from Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma) to pull ahead again by two points.
Out of a Bronco stoppage, WMU registered a kill to pull back to within one point, but Sears recorded a termination of her own and the Broncos committed back-to-back attack errors to push the Valpo advantage to 22-18. Western Michigan closed back to within two points at 24-22, holding off three set points, but Porché registered a kill to close the frame and send Valpo into the in-game break up two sets to none.
The Broncos led briefly early on in the final set, but Valpo took the lead for good on a kill by Bollenbacher at 5-4. The Crusaders forced Western Michigan to use both of its timeouts by 17-12 in the set, and four straight kills by Porché late in the frame gave Valpo six match points at 24-18. The Crusaders would have to use all of them, however, as a WMU kill and four Valpo attack errors brought the Broncos back to within 24-23. But on the sixth match point, Bollenbacher put down the big kill to close out the sweep.
“I thought the key to our victory tonight was in our defensive transition,” said Avery. “We were able to dig balls to target, which allowed Kim to run our offense and capitalize on the best matchups for the hitters.”
Michelle Moore and Kate Corbett tied for team-high honors with 11 kills apiece for Western Michigan (26-6). Katie Eberling added ten kills, while Caitlin Stremel led all players with 23 digs.
Valparaiso closes the season at 25-7, the sixth season with at least 25 wins in school history. Over the course of the year, Valpo earned victories over Notre Dame and Louisville, both of which played in the Big East championship match last weekend, as well as ACC foe Wake Forest. Five of Valpo’s 25 wins came over teams ranked in the nation’s top-100 in RPI.
Porché closed out the campaign with 535 kills on 1,347 attacks, both good for third-most in a single year in Valpo history. Entering this week, the junior outside was ninth in the nation in kills/set. Bukowski ranked 11th in the nation in assists/set entering the week as well, and finished the year with 1,355 assists, good for sixth in a single year in Crusader history.
Malicoat closes her career with a school record 2,306 digs, among the top-20 in NCAA history in the category. She finished the 2008 season with 621 digs, third-most in a single season by a Crusader and giving her the top three spots in the category. Sears finishes her career eighth all-time in hitting percentage at .251 and ninth with 249 career rejections.