Fourth-seeded Valparaiso reached the 20-win milestone for the tenth consecutive year, but more importantly advanced to the semifinals of the 2011 Horizon League Championship as the Crusaders swept fifth-seeded UIC (25-21, 25-16, 25-17) Friday afternoon in Milwaukee, Wis.
Just one of 12 squads nationwide to have won at least 20 matches in each of the last nine seasons entering this year, the Crusaders overcame some adversity to win Friday’s match and reach the milestone again this season. Earlier in the day, Valpo had multiple sets of uniforms stolen, forcing the Crusaders to borrow a set of host Milwaukee’s uniforms to wear in Friday’s contest. Of the nine players who saw action on Friday, four were sporting different numbers than Valpo fans are used to seeing them wear. Valpo had left its set of pink uniforms, normally worn during breast cancer awareness month, back at home and is having them rushed up to Milwaukee for use in Saturday’s match.
“It’s so nice to get back to another Horizon League semifinal,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We’ve gotten to the semifinals all five years in the league, which I think is a great accomplishment. Also, getting to 20 wins tonight was another great accomplishment in our program’s history. For those two reasons, it was really a great win tonight. We got a very good total team effort, playing really well both offensively and defensively.”
On the court, it didn’t matter what numbers the Crusaders were wearing, as Valpo used a tremendous offensive effort to come out with the sweep. Valpo hit .306 for the match, committing just nine attack errors against 42 kills. The efficient offense was led by the effort of sophomore Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute), who needed just 12 swings to post 10 kills and a Valpo season-high .833 hitting percentage. Her .833 clip was the third-best effort in a match in Crusader volleyball history (minimum 10 kills).
But Vanden Berg got plenty of help offensively, led by the performance from senior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian), who hit .333 and tied for match-high honors with 11 kills. Vanden Berg was one of three Crusader attackers to go the duration of the match without a hitting error, as redshirt freshman Lindsey Hauch (Coloma, Mich./Coloma) posted seven kills and hit .438, while junior Mary Dent (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) tallied six kills without an attack error as well.
Defensively, the Crusaders out-dug the Flames by a 57-47 count, led yet again by the efforts of junior Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison), who easily led all players with 24 digs. Senior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) added 13 digs as part of a double-double, as she also handed out 34 assists, while sophomore Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) posted 11 digs as well.
The opening set was close early, but a 5-0 run featuring two kills by Britton and a solo block from Pokorny gave Valpo a 10-5 advantage. While the Crusaders never lost the outright lead, the Flames cut it to one on a number of occasions, including as late as 22-21. But a Dent kill put Valpo two points from the win, and back-to-back UIC attack errors ended the opener in the Crusaders’ favor.
A big mid-set run was the difference in the second frame, as Valpo took a 9-8 deficit and scored 11 of the next 13 points to take control, eventually going into the in-game break up two sets to none. Then, in the final set, the Crusaders rattled off eight straight points after dropping the first point of the frame to go ahead 8-1, and their lead would not fall below three points the rest of the way as Valpo closed out the sweep.
Kelsey Safranek led UIC (14-15) on Friday with 11 kills, while Janise Dismuke added 10 terminations. Dom Aramburu paced the Flames with 11 digs.
For the third time in five years, Valparaiso (20-13) will take on host and top-seeded Milwaukee in semifinal action of the Horizon League Championship. Saturday’s contest is slated for a 2:30 p.m. first serve, with live video and live stats available through www.valpoathletics.com.