Valparaiso rallied from down two sets to one to post a 3-2 (25-16, 21-25, 19-25, 26-24, 15-12) victory over tournament host West Virginia to earn a split of its first day of play Friday at the WVU Mountaineer Invitational in Morgantown, W.V. #21 Ohio State defeated the Crusaders in their season opener, 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-22).
“I was proud of the way our team hung in there tonight to get the win with everything we’ve been doing with our lineups,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I think it says a lot about our team that we can throw them in different lineups nearly every set and still find a way to win. That’s what the early-season tournaments are for, looking at a lot of different setups to figure out what’s going to work the best.”
Valpo jumped on the host Mountaineers early in the opening set, turning a early draw into a 17-7 lead thanks to a 13-3 run, including two kills by senior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) and a kill and a service ace from senior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian). West Virginia would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way, with the Crusaders eventually closing out the opener on a block by Britton and sophomore Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead).
West Virginia was not nearly as kind a host over the next two sets, leading nearly start to finish in both frames to claim the two sets to one advantage. Valpo closed to within two points multiple times late in the second set, as late as 23-21, and was within one point at 19-18 in the third, but both times the Mountaineers went on late runs to shut the door on the Crusaders.
The fourth set looked like it would easily go the Crusaders’ way early on, as Valpo jumped out to a quick 7-2 edge, thanks in part to a pair of kills by freshman Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette). But WVU rallied, going on a 10-3 run to claim a 12-10 lead. From there, the rest of the set was a battle, as it featured 13 ties and four lead changes. With the Mountaineers holding a 23-22 lead, sophomore Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) registered a kill followed by a West Virginia error to give Valpo set point. A kill by WVU’s Halle Kearney tied the frame at 24-all, but Beil combined with redshirt freshman Lindsey Hauch (Coloma, Mich./Coloma) on a block for a second set point and the former then tallied her fourth kill of the set to send the match to a decisive fifth frame.
For the second straight set, it was a quick lead for Valpo, as it started the fifth set with a 5-2 lead thanks to kills by Beil, Britton and sophomore Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove), who also picked up a service ace. The Crusaders pushed the lead out to 10-5, but after the teams traded a pair of sideouts each way, West Virginia put together a four-point spurt to move within one at 12-11. But Valpo would not relinquish the lead, getting kills from Hauch and Beil to set up three match points. On the second of the trio, the Mountaineers committed a hitting error to give the Crusaders the victory.
“I also think it’s important to learn how to play in these types of situations, in matches on the road where the home team has the momentum,” said Avery. “We’re a young team overall with what we’re putting on the court, and it’s good for our youth to be in these situations. In our morning match, we kind of folded when faced with tight sets late, and tonight, we figured out a way to win, so we definitely took a step forward.”
Britton paced Valpo with 12 kills, while Beil registered 11 in her second career match to go along with a match-high five blocks. Pokorny tallied a double-double with 40 assists and 13 digs, as five Crusaders finished in double figures in digs, led by 33 from junior Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison), the fourth career 30+ dig effort by the Valpo libero. West Virginia (1-1) received a match-high 22 kills from Kearney and ended the match with a 59-51 advantage in kills over the Crusaders. But Valpo hit .125 to the Mountaineers’ .088, taking advantage of 41 total West Virginia attack errors, 10 of which were Valpo blocks.
“The disappointing part of the match, to me, was the number of unforced errors we had when we weren’t being aggressive,” said Avery. “When we stayed aggressive, we were fine, but we let West Virginia back into the match way too much with some of our unforced, non-aggressive errors.”
The day’s opener was not as kind to the Crusaders, as facing their first ranked opponent in nearly five years, Valpo was unable to take a set from the Buckeyes of Ohio State. The Crusaders used a late four-point spurt to close within 24-22 in the opening set, while they also enjoyed a late 22-20 lead in the third set, but both times Ohio State closed out Valpo to earn the sweep.
Britton also paced the Crusaders in the morning match with 10 kills, the only Valpo player in double figures. Root picked up 15 digs, while Hauch tallied 14 digs of her own. Ohio State (2-0) was led by 12 kills from Kaitlyn Leary.
Valparaiso (1-1) closes out play at the WVU Mountaineer Invitational on Saturday with two more matches. The Crusaders face Robert Morris at 11 a.m. CDT before concluding against New Hampshire at 4 p.m. Both matches can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links to live stats for both contests.