The Valparaiso volleyball team trailed just once over three sets in a sweep (25-19, 25-19, 25-16) of Youngstown State Saturday evening in Milwaukee, Wis. in the second semifinal of the Horizon League Championship. With the win, the Crusaders will face host and top-seeded Milwaukee Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. for the league title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
With the win, the Crusaders advance to the Horizon League championship match for the third time since 2007. Both prior appearances in the title match for Valpo were in Milwaukee as well – however, for the first time, the Crusaders will face the host Panthers for the tournament championship, as Valpo downed Milwaukee in the semifinals in both 2007 and 2010.
“I give all the credit to our senior class,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We talked a lot this week about what it means come tournament time. I thought the seniors did an outstanding job all week, all day yesterday and today leading our team and getting us mentally prepared to play today.”
Valpo never trailed in the opening set against the fifth-seeded Penguins, who downed Green Bay on Friday evening to reach the semifinals. The Crusaders scored six of the first eight points of the match and extended their lead to six points at 13-7 following back-to-back aces by Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) and a kill from Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport). Valpo’s lead was as much as eight on multiple occasions, the latest coming at 21-13 following a kill by Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove). Youngstown State closed to within four at 22-18, but the Crusaders closed the set by scoring three of the final four points, two of which came on Victor kills, to claim the opener.
The Crusaders would never trail in the second set either, gaining separation early on four straight points, two of which came on a kill and an ace from Dooms. Youngstown State rallied to tie the set at 14-all, but the Crusaders responded with back-to-back Dooms kills, followed by a termination from Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette). The teams traded sideouts for the next eight points as Valpo maintained its lead, and the Crusaders eventually earned a 2-0 lead following a block from Beil and Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead).
Valpo would fall behind for the only time in the match in the third set, but the deficit was never more than one point, and the Crusaders gained the lead for good at 5-4 following a Beil kill. With an 8-6 advantage, the Crusaders went on a 10-2 run to completely take control, a spurt which included kills from four different Valpo players, as well as five YSU attack errors. The Crusaders cruised to the sweep from there, eventually ending the match on a kill by Dooms.
Valpo was led offensively by the performance of its outside hitters on Saturday, as Dooms finished the match with a match-best 13 kills on .379 hitting. Freshman Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) added 10 kills as well as the Crusaders held a 44-26 edge in the kills category. Beil chipped in eight kills on .286 hitting, while Valpo setters Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) and Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) handed out 19 and 17 assists, respectively.
The Crusaders enjoyed a big edge in the back row as well, out-digging Youngstown State (16-15) 60-40, led by 16 digs from Longoria, who also led all players with three service aces. Dooms added 14 digs for her 12th double-double of the season. Valpo totaled just six team blocks, its second-lowest total in the last 14 matches, led by four blocks from Beil.
“I thought we did a really good job defensively tonight,” said Avery. “It might not have come through on the stat sheet, but our block really did well funneling balls where we wanted them to go and allowing us to dig balls in the back row. I really think tonight came down to our defense being outstanding, which allowed us to transition to great offensive opportunities. Also, I thought our serving and passing was great tonight. If you talk to any coach in the country, they’ll tell you – the team that wins the serve/pass game will usually win the match.”
The Penguins would end the match with nobody in double figures in kills, as Alexis Egler registered a team-best nine terminations. Egler also led the way for YSU with 13 digs, while Jenna Cavanaugh led the Penguins at the net with four blocks, including two solo efforts.
Valparaiso (25-7) looks to earn the 2013 Horizon League Championship and the corresponding automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at 1 p.m. against host Milwaukee. Both teams won on the other’s home court during the regular season – Milwaukee winning at Valpo in three sets, the Crusaders returning the favor at the Klotsche Center in four sets. The match can be seen live on the Horizon League Network, with that link, as well as a link for live stats, available through ValpoAthletics.com.
“Come tournament time, everything honestly gets thrown out the window,” said Avery. “Whoever plays better than the other team tomorrow is going to win the match – you can scout and prepare for hours, but sometimes the little things will win that match, so we need to make sure we’re mentally focused and come out with energy. We know what we need to do to try to win, and if we can do that tomorrow, we can give Milwaukee a very good battle.”