Valparaiso (17-15, 8-10 MVC)
2017 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament - Normal, Ill.
Thursday, Nov. 23 - at Illinois St. (20-11, 13-5 MVC) - 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 24 - Semifinal | Saturday, Nov. 25 - Final
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: The Valparaiso University volleyball team heads to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament for the first time this week, as the Crusaders earned the sixth seed for the 2017 edition of the tournament in Normal, Ill. Third-seeded Illinois State - the host school - awaits Valpo in the first round, as the Crusaders will need to win three matches to capture the tournament title.
Previously: Valpo split its final weekend of MVC regular season action, dropping a three-set decision to #25 Missouri State on Friday evening before sweeping Southern Illinois on Saturday night. The Crusaders clinched their berth in the MVC Tournament late in Friday’s match, as SIU lost to Loyola.
Following the Crusaders: The entirety of the MVC Tournament will be broadcast live on The Valley on ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN app. Links for all the live coverage, including live video and 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 371 matches (371-166, .691) 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 426 career victories overall as a head coach.
Series History: Illinois State - 2-0 ILS this season, 4-2 ILS all-time
UNI - 2-0 UNI this season, 8-0 UNI all-time
Missouri State - 2-0 MSU this season, 4-0 MSU all-time
Drake - 1-1 this season, 5-3 Valpo all-time
Indiana State - 2-0 INS this season, 14-10 INS all-time
Valpo In The Postseason: In 13 of head coach Carin Avery’s 15 seasons, Valpo has advanced to at least its conference tournament semifinal match. In 10 years in the Horizon League, the Crusaders were 11-10 in the HL Tournament and advanced to the semifinals nine times - including four berths in the title match. Prior to that, the Crusaders went 7-2 in their final five years in the Mid-Continent Conference in the Mid-Con Tournament, winning three tournament titles.
Digging Deep: Valparaiso enters the MVC Tournament leading the nation in digs per set for the 10th consecutive week. The Crusaders remain the only team in the nation averaging better than 20 digs per set, as they enter the tournament at 20.01 digs per set, and are attempting to become just the second team in the 25-point rally era to average at least 20 digs per 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.
Cookerly Enjoys Standout Rookie Year: Coming off the heels of three straight four-year starters for the Crusaders at libero, freshman Rylee Cookerly has kept up the strong play leading Valpo’s back row. Cookerly enters the MVC Tournament ranked among the top-10 in the nation with 5.84 digs per set. She has already set Valpo’s single-season record for digs by a freshman with 660 total digs and ranks seventh overall on the Crusaders’ single-season chart in the category - just 20 shy of fourth position.
Graboski Leads the Way: The lone senior on the court for the Crusaders this year, middle Taylor Graboski has posted the best numbers of her career in her final season. Graboski leads the Crusaders with 2.88 kills per set on .260 hitting and also is just one block shy of Sydney Bronner for team-high honors with 106 rejections. Graboski moved into Valpo’s career top-10 charts in kills, total blocks and solo blocks this season, and is one of just three players in program history to rank among the top-10 in both kills and blocks.
Pacing the Conference: While the Crusaders obviously lead the MVC in digs by virtue of leading the nation in the category, they also own the conference’s best mark in a pair of other categories. Valpo has tallied a conference-best 1.25 service aces/set, led by junior Katherine Carlson, who paces the league individually (0.36/set). The defense at the net for the Crusaders has been the conference’s best as well, as Valpo has recorded 2.18 blocks/set, led by Sydney Bronner - who leads the conference with an even one block per frame.
Third Time’s The Charm: Redshirt junior Allison Ketcham is aiming to lead her conference in digs by a non-libero for the third time in her career. Ketcham - who has reached double figures in digs 28 times this year, including six efforts of 20 or more digs - is averaging 4.31 digs/set this season to pace all non-liberos in the MVC. Ketcham previously led the Horizon League in digs by non-liberos in 2014 and 2015.
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 earned her second MVC Freshman of the Week honor on Nov. 20 to cap the regular season. Anderson and Rylee Cookerly combined for three Freshman of the Week honors from the MVC office this season, while Sydney Bronner earned Defensive Player of the Week honors on Oct. 23. The trio accounts for three of the five Crusader players who earned at least one All-Tournament Team accolade in early-season action as well. Anderson and Cookerly each were All-Tournament at Notre Dame, while Anderson was joined by 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 was 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.