Valpo Closes Out Home Slate; Travels in Search of Championship
Monday, November 9, 2009
Valpo Closes Out Home Slate; Travels in Search of Championship
The Crusaders are looking for their first Horizon League regular season title. (Ray Acevedo)

Chicago State at Valparaiso - Tuesday,Nov. 10 - 7 p.m.

Valparaiso at Milwaukee - Friday, Nov. 13 - 7 p.m.

Valparaiso at Green Bay - Saturday, Nov. 14 - 4 p.m.

This Week’s Action: One final home regular season match, a non-league meeting with Chicago State, leads the Valparaiso volleyball team into a weekend of action at Milwaukee and Green Bay.  With a pair of victories this weekend, the Crusaders would win at least a share of the Horizon League regular season championship.

The Matchups: Valpo (20-8, 11-3) has dominated the all-time series against Chicago State (0-23), winning 34 of the 35 meetings, including a sweep (25-13, 25-12, 25-21) on Nov. 14, 2008 in Chicago.  Andrea Balsis paced Valpo with a career-best 11 kills on .364 hitting, while Katie Layman chipped in ten kills and seven blocks.

The Crusaders took a 12-11 lead in the all-time series against Milwaukee (11-14, 8-6) with a 3-2 (25-23, 16-25, 25-22, 27-29, 15-12) win on Oct. 7 at the ARC.  Jenny Pokorny tallied 24 digs, 13 assists, six kills and four blocks on the night, while Kim Bukowski and Angie Porché each also recorded double-doubles.

Valpo extended its advantage in the all-time series against Green Bay (9-18, 4-10) to 14-7 with a sweep (26-24, 29-27, 25-22) at the ARC on Oct. 6.  Freshman libero Taylor Root set a new program record for digs in a three-set match with 31 digs, while the Crusader offense totaled an astounding 60 kills.

Previously: The Crusaders put themselves in position for a Horizon League regular season championship with a pair of sweeps last week at the ARC, defeating local rivals UIC and Loyola.  Valpo stood out in all facets of the game, averaging nearly 17 kills/set and 21 digs/set while also tallying 20 service aces over the two matches.

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.  Both the Milwaukee and Green Bay matches will be carried live over the airwaves of WVUR, as well as online at  Live video through the Horizon League Network will be available for the match against the Phoenix, while both matches will have live stats available.

20x8: With its win Saturday against Loyola, Valparaiso continued its reign of excellence, reaching the 20-win milestone for an amazing eighth straight season, all under head coach Carin Avery, who has not won less than 20 matches during her time leading the Crusader program.  Valpo was one of just 15 programs nationwide to have won 20 matches each year from 2002-2008, and is just the eighth program on that list to reach 20 victories this season.  Even more impressive was the fact that after Val Bollenbacher suffered a season-ending injury in the year’s first match, Valpo was replacing four starters from last year’s team, the second-most starters it has had to replace in a single year during that stretch.

Sights on a Championship (And/Or a Bye): Valpo currently sits in a tie for first place in the loss column with Cleveland State and can assure itself of at least a share of the HL regular season title by winning both matches this weekend.  If the Crusaders can win the outright title (which would require two wins and a CSU loss Friday), they would host the HL Championship next weekend.  To earn a top-two seed, and a bye into the semifinals, Valpo must keep one game ahead of Butler, as the Bulldogs own the tiebreaker between the two by virtue of a win over CSU.

Killer Instinct: The Crusaders have become known recently as a dominant squad on the offensive side of the ball, and have lived up to that reputation so far this season.  Valpo, which led the nation in both kills and assists per set in 2008, currently leads the league and ranks 14th nationally with 14.38 kills/set and also sits 11th in the nation with 13.50 assists/set.  The Crusaders have increased their averages to 14.94 kills/set and 14.42 assists/set in Horizon League play, both also tops among league squads.  Valpo is also a perfect 20-0 this season when it outkills its opponent and has held a double-figure advantage in the category on 13 occasions.

No Need For a Rally: Last weekend also saw the Crusaders utilize the service ace as a weapon, as Valpo tallied 12 aces against UIC and eight aces against Loyola for its two highest totals of the season.  The Crusaders averaged 3.33 aces/set on the weekend, far ahead of their 1.11 aces/set pace entering the weekend’s play.

Player of the Week: Kim Bukowski was named the Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for her standout job running the Crusader offense last week, becoming the third different Valpo player to earn weekly honors from the league this year.  She joins Angie Porché, who received Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week recognition on Sept. 21 and Oct. 19, and Taylor Root, who was the league’s Defensive honoree on Oct. 12 and Oct. 26.  Valpo has now had 17 league weekly honorees in just its third season as a Horizon League member.

Closing Out the Home Campaign: Tuesday’s match against Chicago State marks Valparaiso’s last regular season stand at the Athletics-Recreation Center this year.  Valpo enters Tuesday with a 9-1 mark at the ARC this year and has won its last eight home matches.  The Crusaders have now won at least seven home matches in each of the last eight years, and over head coach Carin Avery’s eight seasons, Valpo owns a 75-14 (.843) record in its home venue.

Bukowski Earns League Weekly Accolade: Senior setter Kim Bukowski was named the Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week after running the Crusader offense in a pair of sweeps last weekend.  Bukowski, who earned weekly honors for the third time in her career, posted 30 assists and four kills against UIC before picking up 46 assists and five kills versus Loyola.  On the week, Bukowski averaged 12.67 assists/set and also chipped in 1.50 kills/set and 2.50 digs/set as the Crusaders went 2-0, while also breaking the 1,000-assist milestone for the season.  She has helped guide Valpo to the top-15 in the nation in both kills and assists, and ranks second in the Horizon League in league-only play with 11.24 assists/set.

Porché Stellar All Around: Senior outside hitter Angie Porché had a typical performance on the offensive side of the ball last week for her, averaging 4.67 kills/set on .323 hitting in a pair of Valpo sweeps.  But it was her defensive performance Saturday that especially stood out, as the senior needed just three sets to match her career high of 21 digs, leading all players in the category against Loyola.  Porché, who earlier this season became just the sixth player in Valpo volleyball history with 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs, sits just 13 kills shy of her 2,000th career kill and 21 attacks shy of her 5,000th career swing, both marks she will almost certainly surpass this week.

Diebler Dials It Up: Junior middle hitter Tara Diebler was also extremely effective offensively for the Crusaders last week, averaging 4.17 kills/set on .305 hitting.  She also posted a team-best eight blocks defensively, finishing the week with a team-high 5.42 points/set.  Diebler also chipped in three service aces, giving her a team-best 26 on the season.  The junior is averaging 2.68 kills/set on .260 hitting overall this year and has stepped up in league-only play with 3.10 kills/set on .278 hitting, both among the league’s top-10, to go along with a team-high 35 blocks.

Root Erasing Records: Freshman libero Taylor Root already owns one of Valpo’s single-match records and finds herself just two digs shy of matching the Crusaders’ freshman record for digs in a single season entering this week.  Root currently has 494 digs on the 2009 campaign, ninth-most in a single year in Valpo history and just two shy of Amy Palash’s rookie-year mark of 496, set in 2004.  The freshman leads the league overall with 4.89 digs/set and ranks second in league-only action with 5.22 digs/set.

Quickly: Sophomore setter Jenny Pokorny nearly doubled her season total for service aces last weekend, as after entering the week with eight on the year, she tallied a career-best four aces against UIC and followed with three more against Loyola ... Pokorny also averaged 4.33 digs/set last weekend ... sophomore outside hitter Katie Britton picked up ten kills against UIC and 11 versus Loyola and now has 14 double-figure efforts on the year ... Valpo held UIC under 20 points in all three sets on Friday, the third time this year the Crusaders have done that to an opponent in a sweep ... Valpo’s opening set against Loyola, a 32-30 Crusader win, was its longest set since the move to 25-point rally scoring starting last year.