In a microcosm of the drama of the first two weeks of the season, the Valpo volleyball team found itself down two sets Saturday morning against South Alabama, won the next two frames to force a fifth set, faced a Jaguars match point in the final set and then rallied with three straight points to complete an exhilarating 3-2 (20-25, 17-25, 25-21, 25-22, 16-14) victory and claim the Golden Eagle Invitational championship. Along the way Saturday, Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) moved into third place in program history in career assists.
How It Happened
- The opening set Saturday featured nine ties and six lead changes. Valpo held an 11-7 lead nearing the halfway mark before South Alabama scored the next five.
- The teams continued vying for control of the opener, but with the Beacons leading 16-15, the Jaguars scored the next six points to pull away and take the lead in the match.
- South Alabama led start to finish in the second set, as the Jaguars scored the first five points and pushed their lead to 12-4 en route to going up two sets to none.
- Having already rallied for a victory once this season after trailing 2-0, the Beacons were not fazed. After a back-and-forth first half of the third set, Valpo used a 6-0 spurt — featuring a kill and a block from junior Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) — to go ahead 18-13.
- Then, after USA cut the lead to 19-16, Valpo scored five more in a row to earn set point at 24-16 and give itself breathing room against a five-point Jaguars row, eventually extending the match thanks to a Jaguar error.
- Valpo looked to take control of the fourth set early, scoring the first four points of the frame and still leading by three at 10-7. But South Alabama came back with a 10-2 run to roar ahead, 17-12.
- The Beacons have shown their resiliency through the first two weeks of the season, however, and this fourth-set deficit was no different. A kill from junior Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) and an ace by Anderson kicked a big Valpo run into gear, and by the time Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) delivered a service ace, the Beacons had scored nine points in an 11-point stretch and led, 21-19.
- An error cut the lead to one point, but back-to-back Jaguar errors pushed Valpo’s advantage to 23-20. The teams just traded sideouts from there, with senior Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) delivering a kill to send the match to a fifth set.
- Valpo roared out of the gate to start the final frame, scoring five of the first six points to take a quick 5-1 lead.
- South Alabama came back with four of the next five points to close to within 6-5, but that was the first of numerous times the Jaguars closed to within one before Valpo sided out in the final set. It was a Jaguar error at 6-5 which pushed the Beacons’ lead back to two. At 7-6, it was a kill from freshman Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie); at 9-8, a kill by Hart; at 10-9, another Swistek kill; and at 11-10, a Boyer kill to make it 12-10.
- South Alabama broke through at that point, however, scoring the next three to make it 13-12. Another termination from Ravotto evened the score at 13-13, but a USA kill gave the Jaguars a match point at 14-13.
- For the second straight match, Valpo faced a match point in the fifth set and didn’t blink. This time, McCarthy came through with a kill to force extra points and then picked up another kill to give Valpo a match point chance of its own at 15-14. Fittingly, it was the rookie Swistek who closed a big fifth set with the match-clinching kill to cap the tournament victory.
Inside the Match
- Valpo posted a perfect 3-0 record this weekend to claim the Golden Eagle Invitational championship, the 26th in-season tournament title for the program under head coach Carin Avery.
- The tournament title is the program’s first since the 2018 squad capped a stretch of three straight titles by defending its home court and winning the Crusader Classic.
- For the 13th time under Avery and the second time in as many weekends, the team rallied from down two sets to none to earn a 3-2 victory.
- This is the first known time in program history in which Valpo has faced a match point against it in consecutive matches and gone on to win both contests.
- Valpo has now played four five-set matches over this season’s first six contests and has won all of them. Dating back to last season, the program has now won seven consecutive five-set matches.
- Anderson entered Saturday’s match just one assist shy of Kelsey Berrington for third in program history and moved past her early in the first set. Anderson handed out 21 assists on Saturday and ended the day with 3,976 career assists.
- Meanwhile, sophomore Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) dished out 29 assists and added 11 digs as well for a double-double.
- Offensively, Ravotto led the Beacons with 14 kills and three service aces, while also picking up 20 digs in the back row.
- After a pair of superb offensive performances on Friday, McCarthy closed the weekend with 11 kills and tied for team-high honors with Hart as each recorded five blocks.
- Swistek notched a season-high seven kills, one of which gave Valpo set point in the fourth set and four of which came in the deciding fifth set. The freshman also tallied 14 digs as well.
- One day after cracking the NCAA career top-10 in digs, Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) notched a team-high 25 digs.
Valpo (5-1) continues early-season tournament play at Toledo’s Blue & Gold Tournament next weekend. The two-day, three-match event opens for the Beacons Friday, Sept. 10 against Youngstown State.