The Valparaiso University volleyball team stood toe-to-toe with perennial MVC power and nationally-ranked UNI Saturday evening in Cedar Falls, Iowa and earned a match-point chance in the fourth set, but in the end, the Panthers came out on top in a 3-2 (25-21, 23-25, 22-25, 29-27, 15-9) final.
How It Happened
- The Panthers took the lead for good in the opening set with an early five-point spurt, turning a 6-5 Valpo advantage into a 10-6 deficit. The Crusaders pulled back within one point on five occasions in the set, the latest coming at 21-20 following a kill from senior Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky), but UNI scored four of the set’s final five points to take the opener.
- Valpo led throughout the early part of the second set and past the halfway point until a 4-1 spurt from UNI gave it a 17-16 lead. The Crusaders responded with four straight points, including a kill from junior Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) and a service ace by junior Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep), to pull ahead 20-17.
- The Panthers answered with the next five points, but Valpo bounced back, as a UNI error and a block from Ketcham and junior Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) tied the set at 22 apiece. A UNI kill made it 23-22 Panthers before Bronner came up with a kill of her own to tie the frame for the 10th time.
- An attack error from UNI gave Valpo a set point opportunity at 24-23, and the Crusaders would need just the one chance to even the match, as a Ketcham kill sent the contest into the in-game break tied at a set apiece.
- UNI was the stronger squad early in set three, maintaining a lead approaching the halfway point. But a big Valpo run turned the tables, as the Crusaders turned an 11-8 deficit into a 16-11 lead with eight straight points. Ketcham picked up a pair of kills during the run, while Carlson tallied an ace, a kill and two assists in the spurt.
- Valpo looked in control, maintaining the lead all the way through 22-16. But the Panthers bounced back with six straight points to put the Crusaders’ position in jeopardy, as it was a race to three points late.
- Back-to-back kills from Carlson squashed the UNI run and gave Valpo set point at 24-22, and again the Crusaders needed just one chance to end the set, as a Panther error ended the third set in Valpo’s favor.
- A four-point spurt early in the fourth set, which included a kill and a solo block by Bronner, put the Crusaders ahead 9-7, and freshman Melissa Flynders (Mokena, Ill./Providence Catholic) ended a three-point run shortly thereafter with an ace as Valpo enjoyed a 13-9 advantage past the halfway point.
- UNI would not allow the Crusaders to extend the lead past four points, however, and slowly pulled back into the set, eventually tying the frame at 20-all. Consecutive kills by Graboski and Ketcham forced a Panther timeout at 22-20, but Valpo was forced to use a timeout of its own after back-to-back UNI kills following the stoppage made it 22 apiece.
- A UNI service error put the Crusaders ahead 23-22, but two straight Panther points gave them set point at 24-23. An attack error forced extra points at 24-all, and Valpo moved to the verge of the victory with a block by Bronner and freshman Jaclyn Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) which put it ahead 25-24.
- But the Crusaders were unable to convert their match point chance, as UNI came up with a block. Valpo held off two subsequent set point opportunities for the Panthers, but the hosts finished on their fourth chance to force a decisive fifth set.
- UNI took control early in the final frame, jumping out to a quick 6-2 lead. The Panthers would hit .474 with 10 kills in the set, as the Crusaders were unable to draw any closer than three points the rest of the way.
Inside the Match
- Valpo was in search of its first win over a nationally-ranked team in program history. The Crusaders last took a top-25 team to five sets in September of 2005, falling to then-#11 UCLA 3-2 in Madison, Wis.
- UNI enjoyed an 82-61 advantage in kills for the match, but also committed 33 attack errors to the Crusaders’ 25. Valpo committed just 14 hitting errors over the first three sets versus 23 for the Panthers in jumping out to the 2-1 lead.
- The matchup between the top two digging teams in NCAA Division I volleyball lived up to the billing, as Valpo totaled 96 digs and UNI 105. Freshman Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) led all players with 29 digs for the Crusaders.
- Both squads were also strong on the block, finishing with double-digit rejections. The Crusaders posted 12 team blocks, eight of which Bronner joined in on. It matched the second-best effort of Bronner’s career in the blocks category, topped only by her 10 rejections earlier this year at Cornell.
- Graboski reached yet another milestone on Saturday, moving in Valpo’s career top-10 in kills early on in the match with her second kill of the night. Graboski finished the night with a team-best 17 kills and now owns 1,112 career kills – ninth-most in program history.
- The senior is also now one of just three players in Crusader history to rank among the program’s career top-10s in both kills and blocks.
- Both Crusader outside hitters posted double-doubles with their work on both sides of the ball, as Ketcham tallied 13 kills – just one off her season high – and 20 digs, while Carlson added 12 kills and 18 digs.
- Freshman Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) registered her sixth consecutive double-double as well, as she finished the night with 49 assists and 10 digs.
- Flynders found herself as big a part of the Crusaders’ work in the back row as in any contest to date during her rookie season, tallying a season-high 16 digs.
Valpo (12-11, 4-6 MVC) returns home next Friday evening to host Loyola at the ARC at 7 p.m. Links for live coverage will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.