Valparaiso fought back from a two sets to none deficit Saturday evening against host Southern Illinois in the championship match at the Saluki Invitational, but could not complete the comeback, as Southern Illinois earned the 3-2 (25-9, 25-19, 18-25, 20-25, 15-8) victory. Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) and Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) represented the Crusaders on the All-Tournament Team.
“You have to give Southern Illinois credit tonight,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “They came out fired up in front of their home crowd in a great atmosphere. They’re a good team and played well and that’s why they’re undefeated.”
The opening set was close early on, as Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie), Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) and Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) each tallied early kills to go with a Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) service ace. But with the score tied at 5-5, the Salukis rolled off 19 of the next 21 points to take control of the opener.
Southern Illinois looked like it had control of the second set as well, taking a 13-7 advantage midway through the set. But a Saluki service error sent Diebler back to the service line, and she would stay there for the next six points, recording a pair of service aces along the way. Layman and Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) each registered kills during the 7-0 run as well, and Diebler’s second ace gave Valpo its first lead in the first two sets. After the teams traded sideouts, however, SIU proceeded to score the next six points in a row to take control and go into the in-game break up two sets.
The Crusaders took advantage of a multitude of Southern Illinois errors to keep even in the early stages of the third and then busted out the offense during a 7-1 run, getting two kills from Britton along with terminations from Bukowski and Groesbeck along the way, as well as a service ace from Bukowski to cap the run and make it 16-12 Valpo. A pair of Crusader errors cut their lead to two, but SIU handed the points right back with two errors of their own. Porché then registered back-to-back kills to push the lead back to six points, a lead which Valpo would not let get under four points the rest of the way as they moved the match to a fourth set.
Valpo rode the momentum from the third set win right into the fourth set, starting the frame on a 10-3 run, including a pair of service aces from Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma) and two kills by Layman. SIU fought back, however, taking six of the next eight points and forcing a Crusader timeout with the lead cut to 12-9.
The Crusaders and Salukis traded sideouts for the next seven points before a Groesbeck kill broke the string and pushed the Valpo advantage to five points at 17-12. Following an error, Porché and Layman each tallied kills to make it 19-13, and while SIU would score the next three points, Groesbeck picked up a pair of terminations along with one from Britton to keep the Salukis at bay and send the match to a decisive fifth frame.
But the Crusaders were unable to stop a Southern Illinois run to open the final set. The Salukis sided out on the first point of the frame and Rachael Brown stepped back to the service line to serve seven straight points, including a trio of aces. By the time Valpo could hit the board, SIU held an 8-1 lead, and while a 3-0 spurt later in the set on two kills by Groesbeck and one by Porché brought the Crusaders to within 11-6, they could get no closer the rest of the way.
Groesbeck paced the Crusader offense against the Salukis with 13 kills on a stellar .423 hitting percentage. Porché was the only other Crusader to reach double figures, posting ten terminations. Bukowski handed out 18 assists, while Pokorny dished out 16 helpers. Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led the defensive effort with 11 digs along with ten from Balsis.
“On our side, we just really didn’t have a good match all-around,” said Avery. “There really wasn’t one part of our game that was on, and when you’re outplayed in every part of the game, it’s tough to win matches. That doesn’t take away from the fact we did some good things this weekend, and I am proud of the fact we fought back from two sets down to force a fifth set.”
Valparaiso (5-4) opens Horizon League play this coming Friday as they make their longest trip of the league season, traveling to Youngstown State for a 6 p.m. CDT match. Every point can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and video.