It was an entire team effort for Valparaiso as the Crusaders used 16 players in a sweep of SIU Edwardsville (25-23, 25-20, 25-18) Monday evening in Edwardsville, Ill. With the win, Valpo has now won 20 or more matches each of the last nine seasons. Senior middle hitter Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) reached the 1,000-kill mark for her career in the first set of the sweep.
One of just 13 programs nationwide to have won 20 or matches each of the last eight years entering the 2010 campaign, the Crusaders needed just 25 matches this season to reach the 20-win milestone. Valpo is just the third team out of the group to have reached the milestone again in 2010.
“I think it's really a testament to the assistant coaches and the players that have come through our program,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery on reaching 20 wins for the ninth straight year. “It's a tribute to how hard we work as a program and how well everyone has gelled together. To go through the rigors of a season year in and year out, with injuries and other challenges, and to win 20 in each of those seasons is really a remarkable accomplishment.”
Diebler entered Monday evening's match just three kills shy of reaching 1,000 for her career, and made kills 999, 1,000 and 1,001 all count, as each of them put the Crusaders ahead by one point late in the opening set. The senior middle posted just over 200 kills in each of her first two years before tallying 337 kills as a junior. This year, Diebler has averaged a career-high 2.90 kills/set and has 258 kills on the season after Monday night's sweep.
“Whenever any player gets to 1,000 in a category, whether it's digs or sweeps, it goes to show the steadiness they have shown over their four years on the floor,” said Avery. “Tara came in and had to play as a freshman due to lack of depth in the middle and injuries, and over time, she went from a role player as a freshman to one of our go-to hitters. She has made some incredible progress over her four years here.”
While the Crusaders earned their ninth sweep of the season and third straight three-set victory Monday, it didn't come easy for Valpo, especially in the first two frames. An early 6-2 lead in the opening set was quickly erased by a 5-1 SIU Edwardsville run, and the Cougars actually took the lead late in the opener at 21-20. Out of a timeout, however, junior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) came up with a kill followed by Diebler's 1,000th career kill to give Valpo the lead. Following a kill by junior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), however, SIUE tallied two straight points to tie the frame at 23. But a kill by Diebler gave Valpo set point and freshman Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) came through with a kill to give the Crusaders the opener.
A block by fifth-year senior Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) and freshman Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) gave Valpo a 15-10 edge in the second set, but the Cougars responded with an 8-2 spurt to earn an 18-17 advantage. The Crusaders answered with kills by Pokorny and Britton to take the lead for good, and a block by Britton and Diebler forced an SIUE timeout. Out of the stoppage, the Cougars tallied a kill, but Valpo then ran off four straight points to earn set point, and it converted on its second opportunity with a block by Vanden Berg and Britton to take a 2-0 lead into the in-game break.
The third set went much smoother for the Crusaders, as Pokorny tallied a kill and Dooms a service ace on the frame's first two points. Freshman Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) posted a block early in the third set, while senior Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) also had a kill in the opening stages as Valpo jumped out to a 6-2 edge. The lead never dropped below three points the rest of the way, and freshman Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) registered kills on three of the Crusaders' last four points as they completed the non-league sweep.
Diebler paced Valpo, which posted 47 kills over the three sets on .248 hitting, with eight kills on .350 hitting Monday night as the Crusaders utilized multiple options throughout the three frames. Britton, Pokorny and Victor all picked up six kills, while Dooms and sophomore Mary Dent (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) chipped in four kills apiece. Pokorny also handed out 32 assists on the evening.
Defensively, the Crusaders registered 54 digs while out-killing their opponent by double figures for the fourth straight match. Sophomore libero Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison), fresh off being named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Week, led all players Monday with 15 digs, while senior Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma) contributed nine digs. At the net, Britton was part of three of Valpo's five team blocks.
“It was nice to get to go into tonight's match without any pressure,” said Avery on playing a non-league match this late in the season. “To be able to play everyone and yet still play well and still win in three sets means a lot for our team. It meant a lot to me to see that our chemistry on the court stayed together playing all 16 players. We really didn't miss a beat despite playing a ton of different players, which is nice to use a match like this to use different players in different combinations and give players experience.”
Sydney Winslow led SIU Edwardsville (12-11) with 10 kills Monday night, while Julia Whitfield picked up nine kills and a team-best 12 digs. Jessica Hemann chipped in on a match-high four blocks in the losing effort.
Valparaiso (20-5) steps back into league play as they return to the ARC Friday evening to take on Green Bay. It will be Senior Night at the ARC, as the Crusaders honor their four senior players, and also will be the Crusaders' annual breast cancer awareness match. First serve is slated for 7 p.m., and live audio and video webcasts are available at www.valpoathletics.com, with the audio broadcast also available locally on WVUR, 95.1 FM. Live stats will also be available through the official Crusader website.