Valpo Heads to Horizon League Championship This Weekend
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Valpo Heads to Horizon League Championship This Weekend
The Crusaders are looking for their first Horizon League Championship crown. (Ray Acevedo)

Valparaiso at Horizon League Championships - Nov. 21, 2:30 p.m. CST; Nov. 22, noon CST - Cleveland, Ohio

This Week’s Action: Valparaiso enters this weekend’s Horizon League Championship as the tournament’s second seed.  The Crusaders will receive a bye into the semifinals and need to win just two matches to claim the tournament title and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

The Tournament Field: The way the Horizon League Championship is set up, Valpo will face the highest remaining seed from Friday’s quarterfinal matches in Saturday’s second semifinal.  If third-seeded Milwaukee wins its quarterfinal, the Crusaders would face the Panthers, who Valpo split with in the regular season and is 12-12 against all-time.  If sixth-seeded Green Bay defeats Milwaukee, Valpo will face the winner of #4 Butler and #5 UIC.  The Crusaders split two meetings with the Bulldogs this year and are 8-23 all-time against BU, while Valpo swept two matches from the Flames, improving its record against UIC to 17-21.

If the seeds hold, the Crusaders would face top-seeded Cleveland State in the championship match.  The Vikings won both meetings this season, but Valpo leads the all-time series, 14-8.  The championship is also the only possible place for the Crusaders to meet Green Bay, which Valpo downed twice this year to improve their all-time series mark to 15-7.

Previously: Valpo secured the tournament’s second seed and quarterfinal bye with a 3-1 victory over Green Bay on Saturday afternoon after losing at Milwaukee Friday night, 3-1.  The Crusaders also swept Chicago State in their home finale earlier in the week.  Tara Diebler posted a team-best 43 kills on the week, hitting at a .323 clip, while Taylor Root averaged 5.33 digs/set on the back line.

Following the Crusaders: 
The sports staff at Valparaiso’s campus radio station, WVUR 95.1 FM, will be broadcasting all the Crusader action from the Horizon League Championship live over the airwaves of WVUR, as well as online at  David Schroeder and Keaton Gillogly will have the call.  Live video through the Horizon League Network will be available for all the tournament matches, while live stats will also be available.

20x8: Valparaiso has continued its reign of excellence this year, as the Crusaders’ win over Loyola Nov. 7 gave Valpo 20 wins 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.  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.

Crusaders in the HL Championship: Valpo enters this weekend’s Horizon League Championship with a 3-2 record in the tournament in its first two years as a league member.  In 2007, the Crusaders swept Butler before upsetting top-seeded and host Milwaukee 3-1, but lost 3-1 to Cleveland State in the championship match.  Last year, Valpo beat Green Bay 3-1 in the quarterfinals before falling again to Cleveland State, which was hosting the tournament, 3-2.

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, leads the league and ranks 14th nationally with 14.36 kills/set and also sits 13th in the nation with 13.48 assists/set.  The Crusaders have increased their averages to 14.81 kills/set and 14.28 assists/set in Horizon League play, both also tops among league squads.  Valpo is also a perfect 22-0 this season when it outkills its opponent and has held a double-figure advantage in the category on 14 occasions.

Avery in Search of 250: Head coach Carin Avery will reach a personal milestone if the Crusaders win their semifinal matchup on Saturday.  Avery is just one win shy of 250 for her career in just her tenth season as a head coach.  She enters the tournament with a 249-95 (.724) record overall and is 194-71 (.732) in her eighth season at Valpo.

Horizon League Year-End Honors...: Taylor Root was named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year and was joined on the All-League Team by Kim Bukowski and Angie Porché as the league announced its year-end awards this week.  Root was the only true freshman to make the 14-member All-League squad, while Bukowski earned All-League accolades for the second straight year and Porché received All-League honors for the fourth consecutive season.

...and Weekly Honors: Bukowski was named the Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week on Nov. 9, becoming the third different Valpo player to earn weekly honors from the league this year.  She joins Porché, who received Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week recognition on Sept. 21 and Oct. 19, and Root, who was the league’s Defensive honoree on Oct. 12 and Oct. 26.  Valpo has now had 17 league weekly honorees in three seasons as a Horizon League member.

Root Digs Deep: Freshman libero Taylor Root became the first Crusader rookie to earn a league specialty award and earn All-League honors since Porché was honored as the Mid-Continent Conference Freshman of the Year in 2006.  Root led the Horizon League this year overall with 4.93 digs/set, and increased her rate of digs to 5.31/set in league play, good for second among league players.  Her 542 total digs this season is a new Valpo freshman single-season record, and ranks sixth in Crusader single-season history, just one dig shy of the fifth spot.  She set a new Crusader three-set match record with 31 digs earlier this year against Green Bay, one of ten 20+ dig efforts Root posted this season.  Most recently, the freshman picked up 28 digs in a win over Green Bay on Saturday.

Bukowski Runs the Offense: Senior setter Kim Bukowski earned a spot on the All-League squad for a second straight season after helping to guide the Crusaders to top-15 ranks nationally in both kills/set and assists/set.  Bukowski has averaged 10.08 assists/set on the season and increased her distribution to 11.40 assists/set in league play, second-most in the league.  An AVCA Honorable Mention All-Midwest Region selection a year ago, Bukowski has totaled 1,129 assists to date this year and now has 3,491 career assists, third-most in Crusader history.  Last week, the senior approached a triple-double against Chicago State, posting 22 assists, 12 digs and seven kills, and tallied 119 total assists over Valpo’s three matches.

Porché Puts Points Away: Senior outside hitter Angie Porché earned All-League honors for the fourth straight year, becoming the first Crusader since Kelly Schoenhoft (1995-98) to receive year-end recognition in each of her four seasons.  This year, Porché ranks second in the league in all matches with 3.83 kills/set and has upped her production to 4.34 kills/set in league-only action, tops among all Horizon League athletes.  She has also gotten the job done on the defensive side of the ball, picking up 2.64 digs/set on the season.  Last weekend, she surpassed the 2,000 kill and 5,000 attack milestones for her career, both far and away Crusader career records.

Diebler Steps Up Offensively: Junior middle hitter Tara Diebler came up with the biggest offensive weekend of her career last weekend when the Crusaders needed it most, as they were playing without their starting O2.  Diebler registered a match-high and career-best 20 kills on .326 hitting at Milwaukee on Friday, before putting down 19 kills on .357 hitting Saturday at Green Bay.  The pair of big matches enabled Diebler to finish league play with 3.34 kills/set on .290 hitting, both among the top-ten marks in the league.

Quickly: Sophomore Jenny Pokorny came up with a big defensive effort last weekend, posting 17 digs at Milwaukee and 21 digs at Green Bay ... Porché also stepped up defensively with 20 digs and four blocks at Green Bay, combining with 22 kills for just the second 20-20 match of her career ... freshman outside hitter Mary Dent filled in at O2 last weekend for Katie Britton, who missed a pair of matches due to illness ... Dent tallied 15 kills over the two matches.