Valparaiso (9-9, 2-4 Missouri Valley)
Crusaders come home to the ARC to continue conference play
Friday, Oct. 13 - 7 p.m. - ARC - Indiana State (5-14, 3-4 Missouri Valley)
Saturday, Oct. 14 - 7 p.m. - ARC - Evansville (7-12, 1-6 Missouri Valley)
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: The Valparaiso University volleyball team returns home to the ARC this week as it continues Missouri Valley Conference action against a pair of in-state foes. Indiana State comes to town on Friday for the Crusaders' annual breast cancer awareness match, and Evansville wraps up the weekend on Saturday.
Previously: Valpo split a pair of road matches in Valley play last weekend, sweeping Bradley before falling to Illinois State, 3-2.
Looking Ahead: A stretch of three home matches in five days wraps up next Tuesday evening at the ARC against Fort Wayne before the Crusaders hit the road again next weekend, traveling to Drake and UNI.
Following the Crusaders: Both matches this weekend will have live audio broadcasts on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for the live audio, as well as live stats, will be available through ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 16th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 363 matches (363-160, .694) 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 418 career victories overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: Indiana State - The Sycamores hold a slight 12-10 advantage in the all-time series over the Crusaders. Valpo had won five straight in the series until the last matchup between the two squads, a 3-2 ISU win in Terre Haute in September of 2015. Allison Ketcham had 18 kills on .386 hitting and 18 digs for the Crusaders in that meeting.
Evansville - The Crusaders are just 5-10 all-time versus the Purple Aces, but have won all three meetings under Carin Avery. The most recent victory came in September of 2013, a 3-1 Crusader win in Evansville.
Scouting the Opposition: Indiana State - The Sycamores enter Friday night's match 5-14 on the year and with a 3-4 mark in Valley play, having been swept in three matches in a four-day span last weekend. Redshirt sophomore middle Cassie Kawa ranks second in the MVC with a .349 hitting percentage, while sophomore middle Damadj Johnson is the conference's leading blocker outside of Valpo, posting 1.07 blocks/set.
Evansville - The Purple Aces enter the weekend at 7-12 overall and 1-6 in MVC action, with a Friday night match at Loyola prior to Saturday's contest with the Crusaders. Evansville is coming off a five-set victory over Bradley on Monday night. The Purple Aces are second in the conference, averaging 1.88 blocks/set, and lead the MVC in service aces, as six different players have registered at least 10 aces this season.
Digging Deep: For the sixth consecutive week, Valpo leads the nation in digs per set as the Crusaders remain the only squad in D-I volleyball posting more than 20 digs a frame. The Crusaders are averaging 20.05 digs/set, well ahead of Bowling Green in second position (18.67 digs/set). 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. Freshman Rylee Cookerly continues to pace Valpo with 5.79 digs/set, good for eighth nationally.
Back at the ARC: After playing just three of their first 18 matches of the season at home at the ARC, the Crusaders return home for three consecutive matches starting on Friday night. Eight of their final 14 regular season matches will be at home, where they hold a .707 winning percentage over the last 10 years.
Moving Up the Charts: Senior Taylor Graboski and redshirt junior Allison Ketcham are poised to crack Valpo's all-time top-10s in a trio of categories over the coming weeks. First up will likely be Graboski's entry into the career blocks chart, as with 321 career blocks, she is just four rejections away from that top-10 list. Graboski is also just 46 kills shy of the top-10 in that category, and would be one of just three players in program history to rank in the top-10 in both kills and blocks. Meanwhile, Ketcham continues to move up the career digs chart and enters the weekend just 81 digs away from Katie Bova's 10th-place total of 1,308.
A Wall at the Net: While the Crusaders' prolific dig totals have gotten much of the recognition this year, the other side of the defensive coin has been strong as well, as Valpo easily leads the MVC in blocking with 2.42 blocks/set - well-outpacing Evansville (1.88). The Crusaders also boast the top-two players in the league individually, as Graboski (1.09/set) and Sydney Bronner (1.08/set) own the top two positions in the category. On the year, Valpo has registered at least 10 blocks in a match on nine occasions, including twice in sweeps.
Youth Movement: With nearly half the Crusader roster comprised of freshmen (six of 13 players), it stands to reason that a number of the freshmen would be called upon to play big roles this year. Brittany Anderson and Rylee Cookerly have started every match this season at setter and libero, respectively, while Ally Cummings has started 16 of 18 matches on the right side. Peyton McCarthy has also made a trio of starts, and in fact, against Drake on Sept. 23, all four freshmen were in the starting lineup together.
Multiple Tournament Titles: Valpo claimed an in-season tournament title in each of the last two weekends of pre-conference play, closing out the tournament slate with the crown at Western Illinois’ Buffalo Wild Wings Invitational. It marked the program’s 24th in-season tournament title over the last 16 years, while the team has now won multiple in-season titles in nine of the last 15 years. The Crusaders also shared the tournament title the previous weekend at the Cornell Invitational.
Picking Up Honors: Brittany Anderson and Rylee Cookerly have each picked up Freshman of the Week honors from the MVC office once apiece this season, and are two of five players who earned at least one All-Tournament Team accolade in early-season action. Anderson and Cookerly each were All-Tournament at Notre Dame, while Anderson was joined by Sydney Bronner (MVP) and Taylor Graboski on the All-Tournament Team at WIU. Bronner was also an All-Tournament selection at Cornell, and Ally Cummings represented Valpo on the All-Tournament Team at SDSU.
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.