Valparaiso won its third consecutive Horizon League contest on Tuesday evening in Dayton, Ohio, handily sweeping Wright State by scores of 25-21, 25-17, and 25-22.
“I am very proud of this team tonight,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “To come on the road and be as solid in all aspects of our game as we were is a great accomplishment. It was such a fun match to watch because it was a total team effort at a high level.”
The opening set was tight throughout the early and middle stages, with Wright State taking a 15-14 advantage off a brief 4-1 spurt. But the Crusaders responded with six straight points, as reigning Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) converted on a setter dump and then found sophomore middle hitter Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) on back-to-back points to spark the run. The Raiders would cut the lead back down to two at 22-20, but a WSU attack error followed by another Newton kill gave Valpo four set points. Senior right side Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) converted on the second to give the Crusaders a one-set lead.
The second set was not nearly as close, as the Crusaders utilized a big early run to take control. The two sides were tied at 3-3 before Valpo rolled off 15 of the next 19 points to take an insurmountable advantage. Valpo’s offense, which entered the week ranked fourth in the nation in kills/set, registered 20 kills in the frame on a stellar .417 hitting percentage, led by ten combined kills from Newton and Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) out of the middle.
Wright State got out to a quick start in the third set, jumping out 5-2 and forcing a Valpo timeout. The Crusaders fought back to eventually tie the set at 12, and the teams would go back-and-forth for the next few points. Back-to-back points by the Raiders gave WSU a 19-17 edge. Out of Valpo’s second timeout, Sears registered a kill to draw the Crusaders back within one and then it was the Crusader defense which stepped to the forefront.
Bukowski and Sears combined on a block to knot up the set at 19-all, and out of a Wright State timeout, the Raiders committed an attack error to give Valpo the lead. Bukowski and Sears again stepped up with another rejection to extend the advantage to two points, and then the duo was joined by Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) on yet another block to make it 22-19. The Crusaders would get two more kills from Porché to give Valpo match point, and Newton put away the match on the Crusaders’ third opportunity.
Valparaiso’s offense carried the day again, as the Crusaders, which entered the week averaging just under 15 kills/set, tallied 52 kills on .248 hitting on the match. They also out-killed Wright State (6-12, 4-3 Horizon) by 20, the seventh time this year that Valpo has held an advantage of at least 20 kills over its opponent.
The Crusader attack was balanced as well, as four different players tallied at least nine kills. Porché and Sears each picked up 12 terminations, with the latter swinging at a .435 clip on the match. Newton matched her season high with 11 kills while hitting .429, while Meyer added nine kills of her own. Bukowski dished out 43 assists on the night as well.
“We did a great job keeping Wright State off balance defensively because we were handling the ball so well,” said Avery. “Kim did a great job distributing the sets evenly among our hitters, which made it harder for them to key on any one player. I was glad to see Allison and Tara both have great matches offensively, both hitting in the .400s, and that’s a direct reflection of handling the ball well and also their ability to finish.”
Valpo also shone on the defensive side of the ball, as three Crusaders reached double figures in digs, helping Valpo to a 61-42 advantage in the category. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led all players with 20 digs and surpassed the 2,000-dig milestone for her career midway through the second set. Bukowski chipped in ten digs for a double-double, while Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) tallied ten digs as well. Porché and Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) each added nine digs apiece.
“Taking care of the ball really starts in the back row, and I thought all of our players in the back were fantastic tonight,” said Avery. “Brittany was stellar as always, but Haley, Angie, Val and Kim all did a great job keeping the ball in play and putting it in position where we could make things happen on offense.”
Valparaiso (11-5, 3-3 Horizon) returns to the ARC for the start of a six-match homestand on Saturday evening, taking on UIC at 7 p.m. The match can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, where links for live statistics and video can also be found.