The Valparaiso volleyball team stepped out of Horizon League on Tuesday evening, but the result was the same, as the Crusaders defeated Illinois State by a 3-1 (15-25, 25-22, 30-28, 25-22) final in Normal, Ill. The win was the sixth straight for Valpo, which now sits just one win shy of reaching the 20-win milestone for a 12th consecutive season.
“I think this was a great win for our program tonight,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “The Missouri Valley is the premier mid-major conference in Division I volleyball, and to beat its first-place team is a great accomplishment for us. It wasn't the prettiest performance, hitting percentage-wise, for us tonight, but we did enough good things to come out with a good road victory.”
The opening set, which has proven to be a bit of a bugaboo for the Crusaders in recent weeks, reared its head again on Tuesday, as Valpo never led in the opening frame against the Redbirds. After matching Illinois State's opening three-point run with three straight points of their own, the Crusaders fell victim to a stretch which saw the Redbirds score 16 of the next 20 points as they claimed control of the opener.
Valpo held off numerous small Illinois State runs early on in the second set, and then got a big effort from senior Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) to take control. Trailing 11-10, the Crusaders went on a 10-4 run which included three kills and a block by Dooms, who would also serve out the last four points of the run as Valpo led 20-14. The Crusaders held off Illinois State from there, eventually sending the match into the in-game break tied at one set apiece on a Dooms kill.
The third set would be about as close a frame as could possibly be contested, as following a pair of early Valpo three-point leads, the second of which came at 9-6, neither squad led by more than two points the rest of the set, which featured 17 ties and six lead changes. The Crusaders held four set point chances which they could not convert, while the Redbirds had a shot at claiming the 2-1 lead at 26-25. Finally, leading 29-28 after a Dooms kill, the senior made it back-to-back terminations to ensure Valpo held the lead heading into the fourth set.
The fourth set also was a back-and-forth affair, ending up with 10 ties and four lead changes. Valpo led 14-12 before Illinois State scored four of the next five points to claim a 16-15 advantage. The Crusaders would score four straight to go up by three points, but the Redbirds rallied to tie things at 21-all. After the teams traded sideouts, Dooms posted a kill to give the Crusaders the lead for good, and junior Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) picked up a kill of her own to make it match point for Valpo. An ISU attack error closed the match in the Crusaders' favor.
The defensive effort was the impetus for the Crusader victory on Tuesday evening, as Valpo limited Illinois State (15-6) to .100 hitting and totaled 13 team blocks. Senior Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute), the reigning Horizon League Defensive Player of the Week, led all players with eight blocks, while redshirt junior Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) was in on six rejections. In the back row, freshman Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) led Valpo with 22 digs and freshman Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) was close behind with 19 digs of her own.
The Crusaders were led offensively by 15 kills from Dooms, who has now at least tied for team-high honors in kills in each of the last four matches. Vanden Berg added 12 kills on .257 hitting, as Valpo hit just .116 with 52 kills for the match. Senior Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) dished out 21 assists and sophomore Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) added 20 assists as well.
Illinois State placed three players in double figures in kills, led by 14 kills from Ashley Rosch. Kaitlyn Early tallied 45 assists and 12 digs, while Emily Orrick led all players with 28 digs.
Valparaiso (19-4) looks for its 20th win of the season as it hosts UIC in Horizon League action at the ARC on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.