The Valparaiso volleyball team remained atop the league standings Saturday, winning its 20th straight match in the Chicago city limits as the Crusaders defeated Loyola 3-1 (25-13, 25-22, 16-25, 25-22) in afternoon Horizon League action.
“Again, and I’ve said it before, these road matches are really important in a highly competitive Horizon League season,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “Road wins are really the key to help keep your team in the top six of the standings to qualify for the tournament, and I was happy to see we were able to find a way to get a win today.”
A 5-0 run early in the opening set provided more than enough breathing room for Valpo’s victory in the opener. Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) posted three kills during the spurt, while Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) and Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) each tallied terminations as well to put the Crusaders ahead 8-3.
The margin remained right around the mid-single digits until, at 16-10, Valpo closed the set on a 9-3 run thanks to multiple kills by Porché, Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) and Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie). The Crusaders picked up 19 kills in the opening frame while committing just one attack error, swinging at an incredible .500 clip.
The second set was a much tighter affair, as the Rambler defense tallied five blocks and forced Valpo into five other hitting errors as well. While the Crusaders led for almost the entire frame, Loyola hung around, forcing a Valpo timeout at 15-14. The two teams traded pairs of points before Pokorny and Diebler picked up kills, along with a Britton/Diebler/Groesbeck triple block, for a 3-0 spurt to push the Crusaders seemingly comfortably ahead at 20-16.
But out of a Rambler timeout, Loyola picked up three straight points of its own to force Valpo’s second timeout at 20-19. Out of the stoppage, however, Diebler registered a pair of kills along with two Rambler errors to give the Crusaders four set points at 24-20. On their third opportunity, the Crusaders converted, as Porché tallied a termination to send Valpo into the in-game break up two sets.
The third set was a frame of runs in the early going. Loyola jumped out to an 8-3 lead, but Valpo responded immediately with a 5-0 run, getting kills by Porché and Britton, a block from Porché and Diebler and a Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) service ace along with a Loyola error during the spurt. The Ramblers answered with a 5-1 run, but the Crusaders came right back with five more points on three kills from Porché, as well as two Loyola errors, to make it 14-13. But it was the Ramblers who ended the set with a big run, scoring 12 of the frame’s final 14 points to send the match to a fourth set.
Loyola struck with the first spurt of the fourth set as well, putting together four straight points with the frame tied at six to pull ahead by four. But out of a timeout, Valpo pulled itself together with a 6-1 run, getting two kills from Britton as well as rally-enders by Diebler and Layman during the run to take the lead at 12-11.
Four straight Valpo errors gave the Ramblers a three-point edge at 15-12, and the Loyola lead was still 17-15 before the Crusader offense came up huge, getting a pair of kills from Layman followed by terminations from Porché and Groesbeck to take a 19-17 advantage. A pair of Rambler errors pushed the lead to 21-17 before Loyola put together five of the next six points to even up the frame at 22. But Valpo would close the match with three straight points, as a kill by Groesbeck followed by a Rambler error gave the Crusaders match point, which they converted on their first opportunity as Loyola committed an error.
Porché led all players Saturday afternoon, picking up 16 kills, while Layman added 11 kills as Valpo held a 54-43 advantage in the kills category over Loyola (9-11, 2-5 Horizon). Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) dished out a match-high 42 assists, while Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) registered a match-best 28 digs on the back line. Katie Johnson led the Ramblers with 13 kills, while Mallory Curran and Dana VanDiggelen each posted seven blocks as Loyola tallied 13 total team blocks.
“I thought we played some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year in set one, and then turned around in the next three sets and made a lot of unforced errors,” said Avery. “Most of the errors came from us needing to figure out how to hit around a solid block setup, as Loyola did a good job today setting up good blocks. We just need to figure out ways to come up with kills when we are in those situations.”
Valparaiso (12-6, 6-1 Horizon) closes out the first half of Horizon League play Sunday afternoon as the Crusaders return to the Windy City to face off against UIC. First serve is set for 4 p.m., and all the action can be seen live on the Horizon League Network. Links for the HLN video, as well as live stats, will also be available at www.valpoathletics.com.