Valparaiso saw a 2-0 lead slip away against UIC Friday evening in Chicago, Ill., but rallied after trailing by six points in the fifth set and then facing a pair of match points to earn the 3-2 (25-18, 25-15, 22-25, 19-25, 17-15) victory over the Flames in Horizon League action.
The decisive fifth set started out about as well as the Crusaders could have hoped for, as three kills within the first six points by Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) pushed Valpo out to a 5-1 advantage. But UIC quickly turned the tables, rolling off four straight points to start a larger 10-1 run that put the homestanding Flames ahead 11-6.
A service error got Valpo back to within four, but the teams would just trade sideouts until 13-9, when freshman Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) tallied a kill that sent her back to the service line. A block by Britton and Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie), a UIC attack error and then an ace by Dooms forced a Flames timeout at 13-12, and out of the stoppage Britton tallied a kill to knot it up at 13-all, the set’s first tie since 6-6.
UIC’s Casie Sullivan responded with a kill to give her squad its first match point opportunity, but yet another kill by Britton, who picked up six terminations in the final set alone, tied the frame at 14-14. The Flames answered with a kill by Aubrey Sniegowski to earn another attempt to end the match, but this time Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) came up with the big kill to tie things up. Diebler then came up huge at the net, recording a solo block to give Valpo its first match point chance and then combining with Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) on a rejection to close out the victory.
“I’m proud of our girls for finding a way to win on the road in the fifth set,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We jumped on them early in that set, but then let UIC rattle off a bunch of points and found ourselves in a big hole. But we hung in there, Sarah went back to serve and kept the pressure on, taking UIC out of system. We were able to execute offensively to get the ball to Katie (Britton) for some big points, and then Tara came up with some big blocks on the match’s final two plays, joining with Amy on the final one.”
The back-and-forth nature of the final frame was representative of the way the match as a whole played out. Valpo used an early four-point spurt at 5-5 in the opener to gain a lead it would not relinquish. Then, in the second set, UIC held the 7-3 advantage before the Crusaders posted an 11-2 run to take control and head into the in-game break up two sets to none. Valpo hit .429 in the opener and .296 in the second set while holding UIC to .250 and .000 attack percentages in the respective frames.
But UIC’s offense picked up in the third and fourth sets, hitting .323 and .370 to Valpo’s .125 and .226 clips. The Flames never trailed in the third set, but Valpo never went away, either, closing to within 23-22 on a late 5-1 run before UIC scored the final two points of the set. Then the two squads went back-and-forth in the first half of the fourth set, playing to 10 ties and five lead changes. The Crusaders actually led as late as 14-13 in the fourth after a service ace by Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison), but UIC scored 12 of the set’s final 17 points to send it to the winner-take-all fifth frame.
The Crusaders hit at a .262 clip for the evening with 61 kills, led by 15 finishers from Britton. Dooms racked up 12 kills, while Diebler tallied 11 and Groesbeck added 10 kills. Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) quarterbacked the Valpo offense all night long, finishing with 48 assists. The Crusaders registered 10 service aces, matching their second-highest team total of the 25-point era, led by three service winners from Diebler.
On the back line, Root led the way with a match-best 19 digs, the only Crusader to finish in double figures in the category. At the net, Valpo totaled seven blocks, with Diebler in on five rejections and Groesbeck a part of four blocks. UIC (6-7, 1-2 Horizon) was led by Kelsey Safranek’s 15 kills, while Janise Dismuke chipped in 12 kills and four blocks.
“It’s a frustrating match, because we were doing things so well in the first two sets, and then we just stopped executing what was working for us in the next two, and I’m just not sure why,” said Avery. “This league is so good and has so much parity that you just can’t mentally unfocus for a set, because teams will take advantage.”
Valparaiso (12-2, 2-1 Horizon) improves its winning streak in the city of Chicago to 22 straight matches, but comes back home to the ARC for its next match, a non-league showdown with IUPUI tomorrow on Homecoming Saturday. First serve is slated for 6 p.m., and all the action can be seen and heard online at www.valpoathletics.com, while the audio broadcast is also available locally on WVUR, 95.1 FM. A link for live stats will also be available at the official Crusader website.