Valparaiso (10-10, 3-5 Missouri Valley)
Three matches await Crusaders this week
Tuesday, Oct. 17 - 6 p.m. - ARC - Fort Wayne (11-11, 3-4 Summit)
Friday, Oct. 20 - 7 p.m. - Des Moines, Iowa - at Drake (18-4, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
Saturday, Oct. 21 - 7 p.m. - Cedar Rapids, Iowa - at #25 UNI (17-5, 7-1 Missouri Valley)
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: The Valparaiso University volleyball team closes out a quick three-match homestand with a non-conference matchup against Fort Wayne at home on Tuesday. The Crusaders then take the road as they hit the halfway mark of MVC play, traveling to take on Drake and UNI.
Previously: Valpo split two home matches in Valley play last weekend, falling to Indiana State in straight sets on Friday night before sweeping Evansville on Saturday evening.
Looking Ahead: Just one match is on the docket next week for the Crusaders, as they host Loyola on Friday, Oct. 27.
Following the Crusaders: Tuesday night's match will be broadcast live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Friday and Saturday's matches can be seen live on The Valley on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Links for all the live coverage will be available through ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 16th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 364 matches (364-161, .693) 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 419 career victories overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: Fort Wayne - The Crusaders are just 9-12 all-time against the Mastodons, but have won the last four meetings in the series dating back to 2008. Last season, Valpo went on the road to Fort Wayne and took down the Mastodons in four sets, led by a 28-assist, 24-dig performance from Morganne Longoria.
Drake - Valpo holds a 4-3 edge all-time versus the Bulldogs, but it was Drake which came away with a three-set win in the first meeting in MVC play. Taylor Graboski led the Crusaders with 15 kills on .417 hitting and five blocks in that contest.
UNI - A series dormant for over two decades resumed last month as the Crusaders' first-ever MVC match, which resulted in a 3-1 UNI victory as the Panthers have claimed all seven matchups in the series. Rylee Cookerly tallied 27 digs in the first meeting.
Scouting the Opposition: Fort Wayne - The Mastodons enter Tuesday night's non-conference meeting at 11-11 on the year and own a 3-4 record in Summit League action. Nicole Rightnowar averages a team-high 3.37 kills/set and also tallies better than three digs per frame, while Sydney Boerst leads FW with 78 blocks on the year and hits at a team-high .332 clip.
Drake - The Bulldogs enter the week at 18-4 overall and 7-1 in MVC play, with a Tuesday night showdown against UNI looming before Friday night's match. Kyla Inderski and Cathryn Cheek combine to average 6.50 kills/set, while Kylee Macke picks up 4.98 digs/set in the back row.
UNI - The Panthers are nationally ranked for the fifth consecutive week and enter the week at #25 in the most recent AVCA poll. Piper Thomas is averaging 4.41 kills/set on .399 hitting within MVC play as the Panthers enter the week in second place in the conference standings.
Digging Deep: For the seventh 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 20.22 digs/set, well ahead of Bowling Green in second position (18.81 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 5.78 digs/set, good for 10th nationally.
Moving Up the Charts: Senior Taylor Graboski and redshirt junior Allison Ketcham are poised to crack Valpo's all-time top-10's in a trio of categories over the coming weeks. First up will likely be Graboski's entry into the career blocks chart, as with 323 career blocks, she is just two rejections away from that top-10 list. Graboski is also just 21 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 this week just 54 digs away from Katie Bova's 10th-place total of 1,308.
Setting the Way: Freshman Brittany Anderson continues to hold down the fort at setter this year for the Crusaders. Anderson averaged 11 assists per set in the Crusaders' pair of matches last weekend as Valpo split in MVC action. She tallied 31 assists and added 12 digs against Indiana State, and followed on Saturday with 35 assists, 12 digs and three kills in the sweep of Evansville. Anderson now owns 750 total assists on the year, just 33 away from topping Kelsey Berrington (2012) as the most prolific freshman setter in Carin Avery's 16-year tenure as head coach.
Stepping Up: Three Crusaders stepped up off the bench with strong performances last week. On Friday night against Indiana State, Lizzie Zaleski played right side the entire match and set a new career best with 12 kills. On Saturday in the sweep of Evansville, freshman Jaclyn Bulmahn, who had just 13 kills total in Valpo's first seven MVC matches, posted a season-best eight kills. In the back row, fellow rookie Melissa Flynders tallied 10 digs in the win over the Purple Aces after entering the match with just 15 digs on the year.
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 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.