Valparaiso split a pair of hard-fought matches Saturday afternoon to close out early-season tournament action at the DePaul Invitational, falling to Kansas 3-2 (25-18, 27-29, 21-25, 25-16, 15-10) before downing San Diego State 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-22) to finish the tournament in second place.
The Crusaders’ match against San Diego State was characterized by extremely close sets, as in just three frames, the two squads combined for 32 ties and 13 lead changes. The biggest lead for either squad came early in the first set, as with Valpo playing its second match of back-to-back contests, the Crusaders fell behind by a 12-6 count.
Valpo kept within striking distance, however, and when down 17-14, unleashed a 5-0 run on the Aztecs to take the lead. An SDSU service error started the Crusaders’ run, and kills by sophomore Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) and freshman Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) tied the set at 17-all and forced SDSU to use a timeout. Following the stoppage, the Aztecs committed an attack error to give Valpo the lead, and a kill by sophomore Mary Dent (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) put Valpo on top 19-17.
The teams then traded sideouts for nearly a full rotation, with Dooms coming up with a kill at 22-21 to give the Crusaders a two-point edge. Sophomore Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) then came up with a kill of her own to give Valpo multiple opportunities at the opening set, and an SDSU attack error gave the Crusaders the opener.
The second set was about as tight as a single set can get, featuring 19 tie scores along the way. Valpo gained a little momentum around the midway point, with back-to-back kills by sophomore Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) giving it an 11-9 lead and then later a block by Vanden Berg and senior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) putting the Crusaders ahead 13-10.
San Diego State responded with three straight points, however, to tie the set at 13-all, the first of an incredible 11 consecutive tie scores between the two squads. With the two sides battling towards the end of the set, it was Pokorny with a setter dump at 23-23 to give the Crusaders set point. Following a timeout, Beil terminated a kill off the block to give Valpo the set and the 2-0 lead.
The third set saw the Crusaders attempt to put distance between themselves and the Aztecs on a couple occasions, but SDSU fought back both times. Early on, Valpo gained a 5-2 advantage thanks to four early SDSU errors, but the Aztecs responded with the next four points to take the lead. Later on, kills by Dooms and Vanden Berg, as well as a solo block by the latter, were part of a four-point spurt that put Valpo on top 17-13, but again the Aztecs answered, scoring six of the next seven points to claim a 19-18 advantage.
Finally, one last push got the Crusaders the breathing room they needed. Tied at 20-all, Dent registered a kill and Pokorny picked up an ace for back-to-back points. Beil and Hobbs then combined on a block to make it a 23-20 Valpo lead. After a kill by SDSU, Hobbs picked up a nice tip kill to give Valpo match point, and on their second chance, the Crusaders got another block from the combination of Beil and Hobbs to close out the sweep.
A balanced team effort offensively was the story of the win over the Aztecs, as no Crusader had more than eight of Valpo’s 36 total kills. Beil, Dooms and Hobbs all tied for the aforementioned team high, with Beil and Hobbs both doing it on .375 hitting. Pokorny handed out 28 assists, while sophomore Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) and junior Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) each picked up 12 digs apiece.
Summer Nash led San Diego State (5-3) with 16 kills, as the Aztecs actually out-killed Valpo by a 46-36 count. But the Crusaders hit .219 to SDSU’s .190 clip, and the Aztecs were also done in by 11 service errors.
“We really did a great job against San Diego State,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We were able to avoid making unforced errors in crucial points of the match, allowing San Diego State the chance to make some. That’s why we were able to end up winning. At the end of every set, we came up with some big plays, whether it was a kill or a block or a service ace, and were able to capitalize to win all three sets.”
The first match of the day featured the Crusaders going up against the Kansas Jayhawks, which entered the tournament fourth among teams also receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 poll. The match ended up going the distance, despite only having one set as tight as the three Valpo would play later in the day. Kansas ran away with the opener, going up 11-3 early and never leading by less than five points the rest of the way.
The second frame ended up being the tightest of the match and the only set of the day that would go extra points for Valpo. The Crusaders tried to run away early, scoring the first five points of the set on the serve of Cudney, but Kansas immediately erased that lead with five straight points of its own. The set settled into a back-and-forth affair, with neither team able to pull away as it approached 25 points.
At 23-23, Dooms picked up a kill to give Valpo its first set point chance, but Kansas scored two straight points to turn the tables and have a chance to go up 2-0. But another Dooms kill made it 25-all, and a Jayhawk attack error afforded the Crusaders a second opportunity at the set. Kansas’ Catherine Carmichael answered with back-to-back kills to make it 27-26 Kansas, but Vanden Berg responded with a kill to again tie the set for the 13th time. Finally, consecutive attack errors by the Jayhawks sent Valpo into the in-game break tied at a set apiece.
Valpo led for much of the third set, but the Jayhawks never allowed the Crusaders to really pull away. Trailing 9-8, a three-point spurt gave the Crusaders the lead for good, a lead which eventually grew to four points at 20-16 after a kill by Dooms and an ace by Beil. Valpo led by as many as five at 23-18 before Kansas put together three straight points to move to within two, but Vanden Berg combined with senior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) on a block and the senior followed with a kill to give Valpo the third frame.
The fourth set was much like the first, as Kansas claimed an early lead, going ahead 7-3, and the Crusaders would never threaten. With the decisive fifth set underway, early trading of sideouts turned into a Jayhawk advantage, as four straight points gave Kansas a 7-3 lead. Trailing 10-5 later on, the Crusaders got a pair of kills and a solo block from Britton to cut the deficit to 10-8, but would get no closer as Kansas completed the comeback victory.
Dooms posted a double-double against the Jayhawks, registering 14 kills and 14 digs. Beil added a career-high 13 kills, as well as five blocks. Pokorny tallied 39 assists and 17 digs, while Root led all players with 24 digs. Allison Mayfield led Kansas (10-1) with 22 kills, while the Jayhawks also got a double-double of 17 kills and 11 blocks from Tayler Tolefree.
“Honestly the reason we were able to go five sets with Kansas was we just played really hard as a team,” said Avery. “I think we started to frustrate them a bit and were taking them out of their rhythm. But eventually, their block really started to take over, especially in the fifth set. They blocked the ball really well and did a good job limiting our shots.”
For the second straight week, Beil represented the Crusaders on an All-Tournament Team. The freshman earned the honor this weekend after finishing second on the team over the course of the three matches in both kills (24) and blocks (8) while hitting at a team-best .314 clip.
Valparaiso (10-5) returns to Horizon League action for the next month, starting next weekend on the road. The Crusaders travel to Green Bay on Friday evening and take on Loyola on Saturday afternoon. The Green Bay match can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, while the Horizon League Network will be video streaming both matches. Links for all of the above, as well as live stats and live chats, can be found at www.valpoathletics.com.
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