Valparaiso (4-5, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
Crusaders open home slate before heading to final early-season tournament
Wednesday, Sept. 13 - 7 p.m. - ARC - Eastern Illinois (4-5, 0-0 OVC)
at Buffalo Wild Wings Invitational - Macomb, Ill.
Friday, Sept. 15 – noon – at Western Illinois (5-5, 0-0 Summit)
Friday, Sept. 15 – 4 p.m. – vs. McNeese State (6-4, 0-0 Southland)
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: The Valparaiso University volleyball team gets its first chance to play in front of its home fans on Wednesday evening as the Crusaders host Eastern Illinois at the ARC. The final early-season tournament is on the docket for this weekend, with matchups against Western Illinois and McNeese State at WIU's Buffalo Wild Wings Invitational.
Previously: The Crusaders posted a 2-1 mark to tie for the tournament title last weekend at the Cornell Invitational, as Valpo fell to St. John's before earning four-set victories over Binghamton and the host Big Red. Junior Sydney Bronner represented the Crusaders on the All-Tournament Team.
Looking Ahead: Valpo will open its first season of Missouri Valley Conference play next weekend at the ARC, hosting UNI on Friday evening and Drake on Saturday night. The matchup with UNI will be the athletic department's first home Valley conference contest.
Following the Crusaders: All three matches this week will have live stats available through ValpoAthletics.com. In addition, the Crusaders' home opener versus Eastern Illinois will be broadcast live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), with the link to that broadcast available on ValpoAthletics.com as well.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 16th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 358 matches (358-156, .697) at the helm of the Crusaders and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles, as well as three NCAA Tournament appearances. A two-time league Coach of the Year, Avery has coached 49 All-League recipients over her tenure as Crusader head coach. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns 413 career victories overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: Eastern Illinois - The matchup against the Panthers renews a series which has been dormant for two decades. EIU holds a 13-4 advantage all-time against the Crusaders, but the last meeting came way back on Sept. 12, 1997 in Dayton, Ohio - a 3-0 EIU win.
Western Illinois - Longtime conference foes, the Crusaders have dominated the all-time series with the Leathernecks and enter this weekend with a 29-6 advantage. The two squads have met just twice since Valpo left the Mid-Continent Conference following the 2006 season, however - a 3-1 Crusader win in Terre Haute in 2015 and a sweep by Valpo in Macomb last season.
McNeese State - First meeting
Scouting the Opposition: Eastern Illinois - The Panthers enter Wednesday's mid-week match at 4-5 on the season and went 1-2 last weekend as it hosted the Panther Classic, beating Alabama A&M and falling to Chicago State and Western Illinois. Sophomore middle Maggie Runge was named to the All-Tournament Team, while junior setter/outside Taylor Smith picked up her NCAA-leading third triple-double of the year versus Chicago State.
Western Illinois - The Leathernecks enter the week at 5-5 and have a mid-week matchup against Saint Louis before welcoming the Crusaders to Macomb. Freshman outside Emma Norris owns a team-best 3.19 kills/set. Norris and senior outside Shalyn Greenhaw represented WIU last weekend on the Panther Classic All-Tournament Team.
McNeese State - The Cowgirls currently hold a 6-4 record and won the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup last weekend with victories over Mississippi State, Houston and Stetson. Sophomore middle Shanna Spree averages a team-best 2.46 kills/set on .292 hitting, while sophomore libero Angela McGownd has tallied 5.63 digs/set.
Digging Deep: Valpo has a long tradition of strong defensive play, as the program has ranked among the top-20 nationally in digs/set in each of the last seven seasons - including a sixth-place placement in 2015 and a fourth-place finish in 2010. Through three weekends this season, however, no team has racked up more digs per set than the Crusaders nationally, as Valpo is averaging 20.34 digs/set through nine matches - nearly three-tenths of a dig per set more than second-place Notre Dame. Four different players are averaging at least three digs/set for Valpo so far this year.
Another Tournament Title: The Crusader volleyball program has a long history of winning in-season tournament titles under Carin Avery, and added to that history last weekend as Valpo shared the title with St. John's and Cornell at the Cornell Invitational. For Valpo, it marked its 23rd in-season tournament title in Avery's 16 seasons as head coach, and was the Crusaders' first title since winning St. Francis Brooklyn's Terrier Invitational on the second weekend of the 2015 season.
Bronner Earns All-Tournament Honor: Junior Sydney Bronner represented Valpo on the All-Tournament Team at Cornell, averaging 1.73 blocks per set as the Crusaders posted a 2-1 record. Bronner posted five blocks in the opener against St. John's and added four rejections in the Crusaders' victory over Binghamton. She saved her best for last, setting a new career best with 10 blocks in the win over Cornell. The 10 rejections was one shy of cracking Valpo's top-five all-time in a four-set match, while it was the first time a Crusader reached double figures in the category since October of 2014. Bronner was strong offensively against the Big Red as well, adding a career-best 12 kills on .524 hitting for her first career double-double.
Racking Up the Rejections: While Valpo entered last weekend leading the nation in digs per set, it was its defense at the net which stood out at Cornell. The Crusaders averaged a remarkable 3.18 blocks per set over the three matches, highlighted by a season-best 16-block outing in the tournament finale against the Big Red. Freshman Ally Cummings (13 blocks) and senior Taylor Graboski (12 blocks) joined Bronner in double figures for the weekend.
Returning to the ARC: While Valpo isn't hosting an early-season tournament at home this season for the first time since 2012, the Crusaders will open the home slate this week Wednesday night. Over the last decade, Valpo owns a 64-25 (.719) record at home at the ARC.
Cookerly Continues to Shine: Freshman Rylee Cookerly continues to rank among the nation's best in the back row, as she enters this week averaging 6.44 digs/set - good for third nationally. Cookerly, who set Valpo's program record for digs in a match in her debut at Notre Dame and who was tabbed the MVC Freshman of the Week following the second weekend of action, owns 206 digs through nine matches, which well out-paces the Crusaders' last three four-year liberos at the same point early in their careers (Longoria - 131; Root - 147; Malicoat - 17).
Anderson Sets the Path: Freshman Brittany Anderson has been called upon to set all the way around in a 5-1 to start her Crusader career, and has performed well in the role. Last weekend, she posted a pair of double-doubles in Valpo's two wins (43 assists, 13 digs, five kills on five attacks versus Binghamton; season highs of 49 assists, 14 digs, four blocks against Cornell), giving her six double-doubles already this year. Anderson is averaging 9.88 assists and 3.03 digs per set through three weekends, and has totaled 316 assists through the first nine matches - already the second-most by a Valpo freshman setter in Avery's time as head coach (Kelsey Berrington, 2012, 783 assists).
Youngsters Raking In the Honors: Ally Cummings earned All-Tournament honors in the second weekend of action at SDSU to become the third Crusader freshman through two weekends to be named to an All-Tournament Team, as Cookerly and Anderson picked up All-Tournament recognition on opening weekend at Notre Dame. The duo became the first Crusader rookies to earn All-Tournament honors in their debut tournament since 2013 (Morganne Longoria), and it's the first known time in program history that two Valpo freshmen have both earned All-Tournament Team honors following their first career tournament. Dating back to at least 2002, this is the first time the Crusaders have had three different freshmen pick up All-Tournament accolades in early-season play.
Lots of New Faces: After graduating six seniors from last year's squad, fans will be forgiven if they need a program to ID the Crusaders at the start of the season. Valpo returns just seven letterwinners while adding six incoming freshmen to the 2017 squad. However, among the returnees are Valpo’s top two in total kills from 2016 (Taylor Graboski, Katherine Carlson), its leader in assists (Lizzie Zaleski), its leader in service aces (Carlson) and two of its top three in blocks (Sydney Bronner, Graboski).
Crusaders Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll: Valpo has been picked to finish in seventh place in the Missouri Valley Conference during the 2017 season, according to preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders totaled 32 points in the polling to place seventh. Defending champion Missouri State received nine of 10 first-place votes and sat atop the poll, while UNI picked up the other first-place nod and placed second. This year is the first time in the last 15 seasons Valpo has been picked lower than third in a conference preseason poll.
Looking Back at 2016: Battling through adversity, the Crusader volleyball team finished the 2016 campaign 15-19, including a 6-10 mark in Horizon League play. It was the first season Valpo had failed to reach the 20-win milestone since 2001. Valpo was hit by a multitude of injuries, including ailments which sidelined both of the squad’s setters. But Avery implemented an unprecedented strategy, utilizing libero Morganne Longoria as the team’s setter simultaneously with her role as libero. Over the season’s final 13 matches, with Longoria playing as both libero and setter, the Crusaders went 7-6. Longoria was named an Honorable Mention All-American by Volleyball Magazine and was the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, while fellow graduated senior Emily Campbell was an Honorable Mention All-League selection.
Valpo In The Valley: The 2017-18 school year is a significant season for the Valpo athletics department as a whole, as on July 1, Valparaiso University became a member of the Missouri Valley Conference following a decade of membership in the Horizon League. The Valley, which has sent at least three teams to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last 10 seasons, is celebrating 25 years of women's competition in the conference this season.