Valparaiso won its seventh straight match and extended one of the best starts in program history with a sweep (25-12, 25-19, 25-20) of Indiana State Tuesday evening in Terre Haute, Ind.
The 2008 squad also started out 7-1 before suffering its second loss, while the 2005 Crusader team had an 8-1 start to the year. This year's incarnation is chasing the 2003 Valpo side, which won its first eight matches en route to a 10-1 start.
“I'm very, very proud of the team for winning this match tonight, especially in three sets,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We've had a very grueling two weeks, both physically and mentally being on the road in a bus as long as we have. I was a little worried coming into this match about mental and physical fatigue from being on the road so long, and while I wouldn't say it was the sharpest match on our side, we did more than enough great things to win.”
The Crusader defense was the impetus for the first-set victory, as Valpo held Indiana State (5-3) to a -.048 attack percentage in the opening frame. Valpo's offense hit just .195 in the set, but the Crusaders came up with a number of kills during a key run mid-set. Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) put down a trio of kills during the spurt, while Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) each had rally-enders as well in the run, along with a service ace by Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison). The 9-0 run turned an 8-7 deficit into a 16-8 lead and the Crusaders cruised to the 1-0 advantage from there.
An 8-2 run to open the second set gave Valpo the lead, but Indiana State would remain within striking distance and eventually close to within two points at 19-17. Back-to-back Sycamore errors pushed the advantage back up to four points, though, and two kills by Diebler along with one from Britton gave the Crusaders set point. Diebler came through with a solo block to close a set in which the Crusaders hit at a .375 clip with 15 kills to take the 2-0 advantage into the in-game break.
The third set didn't come with nearly the ease that the first two frames had for the Crusaders, as Indiana State led 11-6 and then 13-10. But a kill by Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) gave Valpo the serve back, and freshman Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte), who entered the match as the Horizon League leader in aces/set, stepped back and served a pair of aces in a three-point span to give Valpo the lead. Indiana State briefly reclaimed the lead at 16-15, but a 5-0 spurt with two kills by Britton, one by Pokorny, an ace by Root and a solo block by Diebler gave the Crusaders control of the finale. Groesbeck eventually ended the sweep with her fourth kill of the set as Valpo won 3-0 for just the second time this year.
Britton and Diebler tied for match-high honors with ten kills apiece, the latter doing it on .391 hitting. Pokorny handed out 28 assists to go with five kills and eight digs, while Root tied for the match lead with 21 digs. Valpo hit .248 as a team and enjoyed the advantage over ISU in kills (42-30), aces (5-0), digs (59-49) and blocks (4-3).
Valparaiso (7-1) looks for its third straight in-season tournament title this weekend, as the Crusaders travel to take part in the Bradley Invitational. Tournament action opens with Valpo taking on Presbyterian College at 4 p.m., and every serve can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, where you can also find live stats and chat for all three matches.