Again playing without a traditional setter due to injuries, the Valparaiso University volleyball team battled gamely with perennial Horizon League power Milwaukee Saturday evening at the ARC, as the Crusaders nearly set a program single-match record for blocks in a 3-1 (25-22, 25-20, 16-25, 25-22) loss to the Panthers. Along the way, seniors Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) and Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) both reached career milestones for their defensive work.
How It Happened
- For the second straight match, both Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) and Tarrah Lasky (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) were sidelined, leaving Longoria as the primary setter. Unlike in Wednesday’s sweep of Oakland, however, the Panthers sent a good majority of their serves at Longoria, forcing the other Crusaders to often take the second contact off of serve receive.
- Milwaukee claimed the first-set lead for good early on with a five-point spurt and extended its advantage to as many as seven points at 18-11. The Crusaders responded with a 6-2 run to close within three points, and in fact would make it a two-point margin twice late following blocks from Campbell and sophomore Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth), but the Panthers took the opener after a Valpo error.
- The Panthers and Crusaders traded early runs in the second set, as the lead would switch hands six times in the frame. Milwaukee pulled away late with an 8-2 run, extending what was a 14-13 edge to 22-15. The Panthers earned set point at 24-17, and while Valpo held off three set point chances with two kills and a block, Milwaukee eventually earned the set win with a kill.
- The Valpo block –which was stellar all night long – was at its best in the third set, as the Crusaders recorded six rejections in that set alone. Three of the blocks came during a 9-0 run which closed the set, as after being tied 16-16, the Crusaders ended the set on a service run by freshman Alana Brown (Napa, Calif./Vintage). Senior Rachel Bruinsma (New Era, Mich./Western Michigan Christian) was in on all three blocks in the set-ending spurt, while junior Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) recorded three kills during the run as well.
- The fourth set was the most tightly contested frame of the match, featuring 11 ties and seven lead changes. After an early 5-1 lead was erased by a five-point Crusader run, neither team pulled ahead by more than two points until Milwaukee went up 17-14.
- With the Panthers still holding a three-point lead at 18-15, Valpo reeled off a 6-2 spurt – including a pair of kills by sophomore Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) and a solo block by senior Jamie Lacheta (Warsaw, Ind./Warsaw) – to take the lead at 21-20. But four consecutive Milwaukee kills gave the Panthers match point, and while a kill by Campbell fought off one such point, Milwaukee closed out its win with a kill at 24-22.
Inside the Match
- Longoria and Campbell actually reached their defensive milestones within a three-point stretch in the fourth set. Longoria picked up a dig at 18-17 of the fourth frame, her 24th of the match and the 2,000th dig of her Crusader career – joining former Valpo liberos Taylor Root and Brittany Malicoat as the only Crusaders to reach the 2,000-dig mark.
- Two points later, Campbell recorded a dig of her own to hit the 1,000-dig milestone for her Valpo career. By reaching four figures in digs, Campbell becomes just the eighth Crusader all-time to record at least 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs during their time at Valpo.
- Meanwhile, the Crusaders nearly registered a team defensive milestone of their own on Saturday. Valpo picked up at least four blocks in all four sets and finished the night with 20.5 team blocks – the fourth-best effort in program history and just a half-block shy of tying the team single-match record. It also marked the program’s highest single-match block total in the 25-point era and was the highest block total since tallying 21 against UCLA in 2005.
- Leading the way at the net for the Crusaders was Bruinsma, who set a new career high with nine rejections on Saturday. Right behind her was Lacheta, who doubled her previous career best of four blocks as she finished the night with eight. Both sophomore Kayla Currier (Mokena, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) and Campbell finished just one off their respective career highs in blocks as well, posting six blocks apiece.
- Both Lacheta and Currier returned to action from injury Saturday night – Lacheta made her first appearance since Sept. 30, while Currier took the court for the first time since Sept. 13.
- Graboski led Valpo offensively with 13 kills, while Carlson joined her in double figures, posting 10 terminations.
- Longoria handed out 18 assists on Saturday, while no other Crusader had more than six assists as Valpo tallied 40 assists on 44 kills.
- Longoria also paced Valpo in the back row with a 27-dig effort – the 12th time this season the senior has finished with at least 20 digs. Campbell added 13 digs, while Graboski chipped in with a career-best 11 digs to finish with the second double-double of her career.
- Between the Crusaders’ blocking and their back-row defense, they limited the Panthers to .098 hitting, as Milwaukee committed 39 total attack errors. But in its second match in the setter-less system, Valpo also saw its efficiency drop off, hitting just .109 as the Panthers tallied 94 digs and 11 blocks.
Thoughts From Head Coach Carin Avery
“With tonight being our second match playing in this system, we talked in practice about a lot of the things that we thought Milwaukee would try to do to counter it. Milwaukee did do many of those things, and I thought we did a good job staying in our unconventional system.”
“We spent a lot of time this week in practice working on our blocking, and it was nice to see us bring what we worked on this week into the match and execute so well. Unfortunately in the end tonight, I thought we needed some key sideouts at certain times, and we just couldn’t get them. We also ended up with a lot more unforced errors tonight than we had on Wednesday.”
“It’s a really special and remarkable accomplishment for Morganne to join our 2,000 dig club. She is a relentless defender for us, and I’m very proud of the way she’s playing right now. With all of our injuries, we’ve needed Morganne to step up and take on an even bigger role – she has done a phenomenal job being both a defender and a setter in these last couple matches. As a team, we’ve really needed some stability, and Morganne is giving that to us.”
“In this day and age, when a lot of teams are having hitters play just in the front row and then using a DS in the back row, it’s an awesome achievement to be a six-rotation outside hitter and play well enough both offensively and defensively to finish with over 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs. Emily has come a long way since her freshman year in the back row. She has worked extremely hard on her passing and defending over the last four years, to get to the point where she can be just as reliable in the back row for us as she is in the front row.”
The Crusaders (8-14, 2-6 Horizon) step out of league play on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. first serve at Chicago State. Live stats for the match will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.