The Valparaiso University volleyball team dug deep to secure the Buffalo Wild Wings Invitational championship Friday in Macomb, Ill., posting one of the top dig totals in a four-set match in program history in a 3-1 (23-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-19) victory over McNeese Friday evening. Earlier in the day, Valpo took care of business against host Western Illinois, sweeping the Leathernecks in straight sets (25-22, 25-23, 25-19). The Crusaders have now won five consecutive matches entering Missouri Valley Conference play next weekend.
Down one set to McNeese and tied at 20-20 in the second set, the Crusaders scored five of the final six points to even up the match and take control.
How It Happened – Western Illinois
- Valpo scored the first five points of the opening set and never trailed en route to going up one set to none. The Crusaders maintained a solid advantage throughout and earned set point at 24-20. The Leathernecks held off two of Valpo’s set point chances, but junior Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) came through with a kill to close the opener in the Crusaders’ favor.
- The Crusaders led throughout much of the second set as well, but the end would prove to be a tight finish. Valpo extended its lead to 20-15 before WIU scored five of the next six points to close to within one point. A kill from redshirt junior Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) gave Valpo set point at 24-22, and after the Leathernecks had again cut the lead to one point, freshman Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) recorded a kill to finish off the second set.
- Western Illinois looked to extend the match in set three, jumping out to a 9-3 lead, but the Crusaders would battle back. Valpo responded with a 7-1 run to tie the frame at 10-all, and a bit later, went on a six-point spurt on the serve of Carlson – capped by a service ace from the junior – to go ahead for good.
How It Happened – McNeese
- The first set proved to be a harbinger of things to come for the entire match, featuring 10 tie scores and seven lead changes. Valpo held the advantage for most of the second half of the set until a three-point spurt from the Cowgirls gave them a 22-21 lead. Valpo responded with consecutive points off a solo block and a kill by senior Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky), but McNeese scored the frame’s final three points to take a 1-0 advantage.
- Leading 15-10 in the second set, McNeese scored five straight points to tie the set at 15-all. The teams traded 4-1 spurts before the Crusaders took control with four consecutive points thanks to a trio of kills and a block. On their second set point chance, the Crusaders converted thanks to a kill from Graboski to even the match at one set apiece.
- Valpo took the lead for good in the third set as part of a four-point spurt which turned a 12-12 score into a 16-12 lead, but could never pull away. McNeese pulled back to within two points multiple times – the last coming with a three-point run to close within 24-22 – but a kill from junior Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) closed the set and made it 2-1 Crusaders.
- The final set featured 12 tie scores and six lead changes. Back and forth throughout, Valpo seized control as it approached the decisive points with a 5-1 run to turn a 17-16 deficit into a 21-18 lead. After the Cowgirls recorded a block to move back within two points, the Crusaders ended things emphatically with four straight points, capping the spurt with a solo block by Graboski to clinch the tournament title.
Inside the Matches
- Valpo will claim the BWW Invitational tournament title with a 2-0 record at the event, as the Crusaders will not face Drake since they are now conference foes. The tournament championship is the second in as many weeks for the Crusaders and is the program’s 24th title in the last 16 years.
- Valpo’s five-match winning streak is its longest since opening the 2015 season with nine consecutive victories.
- Leading the nation in digs/set entering the weekend, the Crusaders took it to another level against McNeese, totaling 110 digs over the four sets – matching the most in a four-set match since the move to 25-point sets and tied for the second-most in a four-set match of any length since 1998.
- Carlson and freshman Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) each picked up a match-high 26 digs in the win over the Cowgirls. Carlson set a season best in the category, as did freshman setter Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll), who recorded 19 digs to go with a season-high 57 assists.
- Ketcham recorded her third effort of the season of at least 20 digs, as she tallied 20 digs and 14 kills for a double-double.
- Offensively, Bronner led the way with a career-best 18 kills – six clear of the mark she set just last weekend.
- Graboski backed up Bronner with a season-high 17 kills on .464 hitting and also contributed a team-high five blocks.
- The highlight of the opener against WIU was perhaps the play of McCarthy. The rookie entered the day with just six career kills, but matched that against the Leathernecks on just 11 swings – good for a .545 hitting percentage.
- Carlson was the only Crusader to reach double figures in kills in the opener, posting 11 kills on .303 hitting while also tallying 15 digs. Bronner hit .333 with eight kills and added four blocks as well.
- Cookerly (15 digs) and Ketcham (14 digs, three aces) joined Carlson in double figures in digs in the win over WIU, while Anderson narrowly missed a double-double with 31 assists and nine digs.
- Returning from injury, junior Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) made her season debut in the match against Western Illinois, as all 13 Crusaders have now seen action this year.
Thoughts From Coach Avery
“It was a great week of volleyball for us. To get on a bit of a run is great as we prepare for the start of conference play next week. The last three days have been a big tough, but we had a great grind to us. We’re excited to start play in The Valley next week.”
Valpo (7-5) opens up its first season as an MVC member at home at the ARC next Friday evening as the Crusaders host UNI at 7 p.m. Prior to the match, a brief ceremony will be held, as the contest will mark Valpo’s first home conference contest since joining The Valley in July. Links for live audio (WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and live stats will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.