This Weekend’s Action: Valparaiso kicks off Horizon League play on Friday evening with a match at Youngstown State, and then continues further east on Saturday, playing in the Pitt Blue and Gold Tournament against Maryland Eastern Shore, as well as the host Panthers.
The Matchups: Valparaiso (5-4) holds a 12-6 series advantage over Youngstown State (2-6), but has never faced off against Saturday opponents Maryland Eastern Shore (8-3) or Pittsburgh (5-6).
Valpo has split four matchups with the Penguins since joining the Horizon League, dropping both contests to YSU in 2007 before sweeping both last season, including a 25-18, 25-20, 25-17 sweep in Youngstown on Oct. 31 in the two schools’ last meeting. The Crusaders outkilled the Penguins by a 52-33 margin, led by 14 kills from Angie Porché and 12 by Allison Sears. Kim Bukowski handed out 42 assists, while Brittany Malicoat led all players with 18 digs.
Previously: Valparaiso carried over its momentum from the previous weekend into last weekend’s Saluki Invitational, opening the tournament with sweeps of Murray State and 2008 NCAA Tournament second round participant UAB. The Crusaders ran into a buzzsaw in the tournament championship match in host Southern Illinois, falling in five to snap a four-match winning streak. Kim Bukowski and Amy Groesbeck represented Valpo on the All-Tournament Team.
Following the Crusaders: The sports staff at Valparaiso’s campus radio station, WVUR 95.1 FM, will be broadcasting most of the Crusaders’ volleyball matches this season. All three matches this weekend will be carried live over the airwaves of WVUR, as well as online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links to live stats for all three matches. The Youngstown State match will also have live video available through the Crusader website.
One Streak Ends...: After dropping the first two sets of their match against South Dakota on Sept. 5, the Crusaders came out of the locker room and would not lose another set for over a week. Valpo took each of the final three sets from the Coyotes, and went on to sweep Centenary, Murray State and UAB before having its 12-set winning streak snapped by Southern Illinois in the opening frame.
...But Another Resumes: Valparaiso will be looking to extend another set-winning streak come Friday, however. Way back on October 24, 2008, Milwaukee came to the ARC and took the opening set from the Crusaders. But since that point, Valpo has not dropped a set in regular season Horizon League action, taking the final three frames from the Panthers and sweeping its final six league matches of the 2008 campaign.
Kills = Wins: It’s a simple concept, in that kills are the most common ways to score points - if you out-kill your opponent, you’re probably going to win the match. The Crusaders have held true to that so far in 2009, going 5-0 when they outkill their opponent, but 0-4 when they trail in the category. But when Valpo has held the advantage, it has held it in a big way, as four times the Crusaders have had a double-figure advantage in kills over the opposition.
Early League Start: Starting the league season as early as September 18 is not something that has happened in the Crusaders’ recent history. In fact, not since 1993, when Valpo opened Mid-Con play with Western Illinois on Sept. 17, have the Crusaders started the league slate this early.
Leading the Nation: Valparaiso closed the 2008 campaign as the nation’s best in both kills/set and assists/set, outpacing national champion Penn State in both categories. It marked the first time in program history the Crusaders led the nation in any statistical category.
AVCA Honors: After senior outside hitter Angie Porché made Crusader history by earning Honorable Mention All-American and All-Midwest Region honors from the AVCA in 2007, Valpo found itself well represented on the AVCA squads last year. Porché repeated as an All-Region and Honorable Mention All-American honoree, while she was joined on both teams by graduated libero Brittany Malicoat. Senior setter Kim Bukowski also earned recognition as an Honorable Mention All-Region honoree.
Tabbed Second: Valparaiso has been projected to finish second in the Horizon League this season in preseason polling of the league’s nine head coaches. The Crusaders received two of the nine first-place votes en route to tallying 58 points. Defending league champion Milwaukee received the other seven first-place nods and totaled 63 points, while Cleveland State, Butler, Wright State, Loyola, UIC, Youngstown State and Green Bay rounded out the polling in order.
Groesbeck Garners Honors: Sophomore right side Amy Groesbeck had her best weekend in a Crusader uniform last weekend at the Saluki Invitational and was honored with a spot on the All-Tournament Team for her performance, the first such recognition of her career. Groesbeck kicked off the weekend with a team-high 12 kills on .500 hitting, the best single-match performance by a Crusader this year, in the sweep of Murray State, and added eight kills in the sweep of UAB. In the tournament finale, the sophomore again led Valpo with 13 kills while swinging at a .423 clip. On the season, Groesbeck is third on the squad, averaging 2.42 kills/set, and is swinging at a .228 clip, best among regular hitters.
Bukowski Sets Things Up: Senior setter Kim Bukowski added another piece of hardware to her collection last weekend, as she was also named to the All-Tournament Team at the Saluki Invitational. She posted 30 assists in the opener against Murray State while running the Crusader offense as it hit a season-best .374. Bukowski then dished out 37 assists in a sweep of UAB, jumping two spots to fifth place on Valpo’s all-time assists chart, where she now sits just 164 helpers shy of fourth place. The senior is now also just 383 assists shy of reaching the 3,000 assist plateau for her career.
Root Continues to Produce: Freshman libero Taylor Root continued her career-opening streak last weekend at the Saluki Invitational, picking up at least ten digs in each of the three matches, meaning she has registered double figures in the category in each of her first nine career matches. The freshman picked up 17 digs in the sweep of Murray State, 22 in the sweep of 2008 second round NCAA participant UAB and 11 against Southern Illinois. The freshman currently ranks fourth among Horizon League players with 4.45 digs/set on the year, and has paced Valpo in the category in each of the season’s nine matches.
Britton On the Outside: Sophomore outside hitter Katie Britton has continued her solid play since becoming a member of the regular rotation. Coming off All-Tournament honors at Drake, Britton posted seven kills on .462 hitting against Murray State and then paced Valpo with 14 kills on .323 hitting in the sweep of UAB. On the season, she is swinging at a .220 clip while putting down 2.91 kills/set, second-most on the squad.
Quickly: Valpo’s diversifyed offense has been on display this season, as four different hitters are averaging between five and eight attacks per set ... the beneficiary of the diversification has been senior Angie Porché, who is averaging just 7.85 attacks/set this season versus her career rate of 10.95 ... Porché has not led the Crusaders in kills since the South Dakota match, a stretch of four matches, the longest-such streak since an eight-match stretch near the end of her freshman campaign ... junior outside hitter Andrea Balsis posted a career-best ten digs against Southern Illinois.