The third-seeded Valparaiso volleyball team advanced to the Horizon League Championship semifinal on Friday evening, courtesy of a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-20) sweep of sixth-seeded Youngstown State in Cleveland, Ohio. The Crusaders will take on second-seeded UIC in the second semifinal Saturday at 5:30 p.m. CT.
“I’m really proud of this group,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “This is going to be our 11th straight league semifinal match, which is an amazing feat. This group has worked extremely hard throughout the season to make it back to this point.”
The Crusaders pulled away from the Penguins in the opener by scoring eight of the set’s final 11 points. Youngstown State had closed to within 17-16 following consecutive points, but back-to-back kills from senior Mary Dent (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) pushed the Crusader edge back to three points and forced a YSU timeout.
Following the break, the Penguins got a kill to make it 19-17, but sophomore Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) answered with a kill of her own, and Dent picked up another termination to make it 21-17. Following a YSU kill, Dent registered yet another kill, and Beil followed with a solo rejection as Valpo led 23-18.
Out of a timeout, it was a solo block from redshirt sophomore Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) which gave the Crusaders numerous set points at 24-18. On their second chance, Beil would finish with a set-ending kill as Valpo claimed the opener. The Crusaders hit .356 with 18 kills in the opening frame, led by six kills on just eight swings by the senior Dent.
Set two featured a pair of early runs, as the Crusaders scored the first three points on a pair of YSU errors and a kill from Beil, before the Penguins scored six of the next seven to go ahead 6-4. Valpo would not let YSU pull away at that point, but the Penguins threatened to yet again later in the set, as a 12-11 Crusader lead turned into a 15-12 deficit thanks to four straight YSU points.
But a timeout by the Crusaders completely changed the complexion of the set, as the Crusaders scored 13 of the set’s final 18 points to run away and make it 2-0. Valpo claimed the lead for good on a pair of kills from junior Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead) which sandwiched a kill from junior Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) which made it 17-16. Junior Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) and Beil each picked up two kills in the set-ending run as well, the latter closing the second set with her seventh kill of the match as Valpo went into the break up two sets to none.
The third set looked like the Crusaders would run away with it, as Valpo scored eight straight early to take a 9-3 lead, including a pair of Beil kills. YSU slowly moved back into the set, however, eventually closing to within 18-17 following three straight points.
But again, with the set getting down to the late stages, it was Valpo scoring the key points. Vanden Berg combined with Hobbs on a block and also had a kill during a four-point spurt which pushed the lead back out to 22-17. Then, with the Penguins within 23-20, Dent tallied yet another kill to give the Crusaders multiple match points. Valpo needed just one, as a YSU attack error ended the match in the Crusaders’ favor.
“I thought we did a good job tonight winning a lot of the long rallies, and with us able to terminate on a lot of them,” said Avery. “Youngstown is a very good blocking team, and this week in practice, we worked on a lot of things we needed to do to be successful against their block. I thought our players did a job executing what was open for them. Defensively, the offense that Youngstown came out with in the first set was faster than we were expecting – we weren’t quite ready for the pace. I thought our block and defense did a really good job adjusting to the speed – our block got a lot more good touches on the ball, allowing our defense to take care of the ball and transition.”
A trio of Crusaders all had stellar offensive performances on Friday. Vanden Berg led the way with 13 kills and hit .312, while Dent added 12 kills, hitting at a team-high .455 clip. Beil chipped 11 kills on .450 hitting as well. Freshman Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) handed out 21 assists to go with 17 assists from junior Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte).
“If you look at our team’s total attempts tonight, our setters did an extremely good job distributing the ball,” said Avery. “They put us in a good situation to be successful, and obviously our hitters were able to finish.”
Valpo’s effort on the back line was paced by senior libero Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison), who finished as the only Crusader in double figures in digs with 16. Valpo tallied 58 total team digs on the match, helping to limit YSU to .142 hitting.
Youngstown State (15-14) was led by 12 kills on .478 hitting from Shannon Watson, but no other Penguin had more than eight kills or hit better than .148. Casey D’Ambrose picked up a double-double with 21 assists and 10 digs, while Erika West led all players with 18 digs.
Valparaiso (21-11) takes on second-seeded UIC in the second semifinal Saturday evening from Woodling Gymnasium at 5:30 p.m. CT. The match will be broadcast live on the Horizon League Network, with links for the live video and live stats available through www.valpoathletics.com.