Valparaiso closed out play at the WVU Mountaineer Invitational in Morgantown, W.V. on Saturday by cruising to a pair of sweeps, downing Robert Morris early in the afternoon (25-12, 25-23, 25-9) before taking down New Hampshire (25-17, 25-17, 25-11) to conclude tournament action.
“It was good for us to get back on the court today,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We got the first day jitters over and done with, and today was just so much smoother for us in every facet of the game. Our serve receive was outstanding, and gave Jenny a lot of different options today. She did a great job distributing the ball and our hitters were able to be more aggressive, and it all really started with our ball control.”
Valpo never trailed in the opening set against Robert Morris, taking advantage of four hitting errors by the Colonials to claim a quick 4-0 advantage that it would not relinquish. From that point on, it was the offense that carried the Crusaders, as they hit .484 with 15 kills in the opening set, not committing a single attack error. Robert Morris closed within 16-10, but a 9-2 run highlighted by three kills from sophomore Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) closed out the opener in Valpo’s favor.
The second set against the Colonials was the only set all day that was a nail-biter for Valpo, as it featured 14 ties and five lead changes. In the late stages of the set, RMU held a 22-20 lead, but a kill from senior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) followed by two attack errors by Robert Morris gave the Crusaders a 23-22 advantage. A Valpo error briefly tied the set at 23-all, but another kill from Britton gave the Crusaders set point, and sophomore Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) combined with redshirt freshman Lindsey Hauch (Coloma, Mich./Coloma) on a block to give Valpo the two-set lead.
The final set was academic in the sweep of Robert Morris, as a 4-3 lead quickly turned into a 12-3 lead on the serve of sophomore Sarah Chrabaszcz (Reedsburg, Wis./Reedsburg Area). Valpo continued to push its edge from there, ultimately scoring the final three points of the set and ending the sweep with a service ace from junior Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison). The 25-9 set victory marked just the third time in the rally scoring era that the Crusaders have held an opponent to single digits in a frame.
The Crusaders showcased their depth against Robert Morris (0-1), as seven different Valpo players picked up at least four kills. Freshman Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) led the Crusaders with seven kills on just 11 swings, while Britton and senior Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) chipped in six kills apiece. As a team the Crusaders totaled 40 kills on .323 hitting for the match. Senior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) handed out 32 assists, while Root led the back line with 12 digs. Hannah Veith led all players with nine kills for Robert Morris.
Valpo’s closest set in the nightcap against New Hampshire proved to be the opening one, as the Wildcats held a 15-14 lead past the halfway point of the frame. Three different Crusaders totaled kills as part of a 5-1 spurt, however, to turn it into a 19-16 Valpo edge, and following a UNH kill, Pokorny bookended a 6-0 Valpo run with kills to give the Crusaders the opening frame.
Both of Valpo’s outside hitters, Britton and sophomore Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove), tallied four kills apiece in the second set as the Crusaders rolled to a second straight 25-17 set victory. An early 8-2 run gave Valpo a five-point advantage, and the lead would not fall under four points the rest of the way.
Just as in the day’s opening match, a service run by Chrabaszcz gave Valpo an insurmountable lead in the final set, as the sophomore stepped to the service line with a 6-2 lead and extended it to 11-2 before surrendering the serve. The Crusaders hit .423 in the final frame with 13 kills while holding the Wildcats to .000 hitting, eventually ending the match on a kill by Groesbeck.
Dooms registered her first double-double of the season to lead Valpo against New Hampshire, hitting .400 with 10 kills and also adding 11 digs. Hauch contributed 11 digs as well, while Pokorny also tallied a double-double with 30 assists and 10 digs. The Crusaders totaled eight blocks in the sweep, with Beil, Pokorny and Vanden Berg all in on three apiece. Valpo held New Hampshire (0-4) to .086 hitting for the match, as Morgan Thatcher led the Wildcats with 10 kills.
“I think today what we saw was that we can replace a lot of different players and still play at a super-high level,” said Avery. “Today, everyone got a chance to play, and we got to see a lot of different people in a lot of different positions. Even with that, we were still able to keep our continuity and flow, which was a lot of fun to see. I also thought we really served well today. We were able to take both teams out of system with our serving, allowing us to go on really good runs. Even when we weren’t getting aces, we still took down balls and out of system balls and were able to execute offensively, whereas yesterday we didn’t do as good a job with them.”
Valparaiso (3-1) returns home to host the Marriott Volleyball next Friday and Saturday, Sept. 2 and 3. The two-day, five-team tournament kicks off Friday morning at 9 a.m. First serve for the Crusaders’ first match is set for 11:30 a.m., as Valpo will take on Murray State. Live stats for all 10 matches of the tournament, as well as live audio (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and live video (Horizon League Network) for Valpo’s matches, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
“This was a really good tournament for us,” concluded Avery. “We saw four different styles of teams, and we were able to adapt to all four different styles. I think coming out of this tournament 3-1 was a good weekend for us, and was also a good way to prepare us for next weekend.”