Ravaged by injuries this season, the Valparaiso University volleyball team faced its biggest challenge of the season and one of the biggest challenges a volleyball team could face – heading into a match without either of its setters – head-on at league-leading Oakland and came out on the other side with the most remarkable of victories, sweeping the Golden Grizzlies (25-22, 28-26, 25-23) in Horizon League action Wednesday evening.
How It Happened
- With setters Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) and Tarrah Lasky (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) both sidelined on Wednesday due to injuries, head coach Carin Avery and the Crusader staff put together a game plan using libero Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) – by rule prohibited from setting overhand in front of the 10-foot line – as the squad’s primary setter.
- The Crusaders utilized senior Lexie Bouza (Elgin, Ill./Burlington Central) as their backup setter, primarily when Longoria took the first touch off a serve or attack.
- With their revised attack scheme, the Crusaders never trailed in the opening set and were never even tied after 3-3. A 5-1 spurt – including two kills by Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) took a 14-13 lead to 19-14.
- With the lead cut to two at 22-20, Valpo got kills from senior Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) and sophomore Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) to earn set point at 24-20. Oakland held off two set points, but a service error ended the opener in the Crusaders’ favor.
- Valpo led early in the second set, but the Golden Grizzlies led through the middle stages and owned a 22-19 lead late. But the Crusaders scored five of the next six points, including two kills by Campbell, to earn set point at 24-23.
- Valpo earned three set point chances following Graboski kills, but each time, Oakland responded to even the second set. But on the fourth opportunity, following a service error by the Golden Grizzlies, Campbell finished a rally with a kill to give the Crusaders a 2-0 lead.
- With the third set being tightly contested through the middle stages, Valpo exploded out to a big lead with a 10-2 run, pushing a tie score to a 23-15 advantage. But just two points from defeat, Oakland pushed back, scoring eight of the next nine points before Valpo got another kill from Campbell to close out the sweep.
Inside the Match
- Despite the highly unconventional offensive attack, the Crusaders were efficient on Wednesday – keeping the Golden Grizzlies off balance with attacks on two and unusual approaches to attacking following free balls, among other strategies.
- Valpo hit above .200 in each of the three sets on Wednesday and ended the match with a .237 attack percentage as a team – the team’s fourth-best mark of the season.
- With the game plan limiting attack possibilities from the middle, the Crusaders’ pin hitters had to step up, and they did so – both Campbell and Graboski posted 14 kills to tie for team-high honors, while both hit at better than a .250 clip as well.
- Longoria, who entered the match with a career high of nine assists, filled her role on Wednesday with aplomb. The senior tallied 28 assists – believed to be among the highest, if not the highest, assist totals by a libero in Division I volleyball since the position’s inception. Bouza added seven assists as well.
- Longoria also finished with a team-best 14 digs on Wednesday, leaving her just 24 digs shy of the 2,000-dig milestone for her career.
- The Crusaders finished with seven blocks in the sweep, led by four rejections from sophomore Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth).
- Valpo out-hit Oakland, which entered the match tied atop the Horizon League standings, .237-.188, as the Golden Grizzlies committed 23 attack errors to the Crusaders’ 13.
Thoughts From Head Coach Carin Avery
“I’m so very proud of this team for embracing all the challenges that have come their way this year. We’ve had one bad hit after another this season, and we keep coming back strong. Not only do we have a number of players out with injuries right now, but we have people playing injured as well. I wouldn’t want to go through all this without this special group of young women and our great coaching staff. I’m glad to see all our hard work pay off tonight.”
The Crusaders (9-13, 2-5 Horizon) look to close out the first half of Horizon League play with a win Saturday as they host Milwaukee at the ARC at 5p .m. The match will be the program’s annual breast cancer awareness match, and can be seen live on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Links for live video, as well as live stats, will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.