Milwaukee’s defense forced Valparaiso into 30 hitting errors as the Crusaders fell in three sets to the Panthers (25-14, 26-24, 25-23) Saturday afternoon in Horizon League Championship semifinal action in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Congratulations to Milwaukee,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “They came out and did a great job defensively today, and won the match because of it.”
The Panthers set the tone early with their block, recording rejections on four of the match’s first ten points en route to an 8-2 advantage. Valpo put together a four-point spurt on two kills by Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian), a kill from Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and a UWM hitting error to close to within two points at 8-6, but that was as close as the Crusaders would get in the opener, as Milwaukee went on another 8-2 run to secure the set in its favor.
The second set looked early to be going the same direction as the first, with Milwaukee scoring the first four points, but the Crusaders kept themselves in the frame and eventually took their first lead at 13-12. UWM would tie things up again at 15, but Valpo responded with a quick 4-1 spurt on kills by Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South), a Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) service ace and a Panther error to take a 19-16 edge.
Milwaukee came right back with a 5-1 run of its own to take back the lead at 21-20. After the teams traded sideouts, the Crusaders put themselves in position to take the frame with a three-point spurt on kills by Diebler and Porché and a block from Diebler and Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North). But Valpo could not convert on the pair of set point opportunities at 24-22, as UWM came up with a kill followed by a Crusader hitting error, and a block and a kill closed the set and sent the Panthers into the break up two sets.
Valpo took control from the onset of the third set, scoring the frame’s first five points and, after Milwaukee had come back to within 12-9, putting together a big 7-1 run that included kills from three different Crusaders and a pair of Valpo blocks. But that big run was answered by a huge 12-0 run by the Panthers, as UWM overcame a nine-point deficit and took a three-point lead.
Diebler finally ended the run with a kill to cut the Panther edge to 22-20, and a block by Diebler and Groesbeck followed by a Milwaukee attack error tied things up again at 22. But the Panthers got a kill and a Crusader hitting error to gain two match point chances, and while Valpo was able to fight off one chance on a kill by Porché, a UWM kill closed out the sweep.
Valpo held a 40-33 advantage in kills over Milwaukee for the match, but were unable to overcome 17 Panther blocks and 27 additional unforced errors. Diebler was the only player on either side to reach double figures in kills for the match, putting down 14 kills, while Bukowski handed out 25 assists. On the back line, Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led all players with 22 digs.
Milwaukee (15-14) got nine kills apiece from Jena Berg and Kerri Schuh, while Natalie Schmitting was in on 11 of the Panthers’ 17 blocks. Mary Beth O’Brien tallied six blocks of her own, while Schuh added five rejections.
Valparaiso (22-10) closes out the 2009 campaign next Saturday as the Crusaders travel to Kalamazoo to take on Western Michigan. Match time is set for 6 p.m. CST.