Valparaiso (19-8, 10-6 MVC)
Friday, Nov. 19 - at UNI (12-17, 7-9 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 20 - at Drake (10-14, 5-11 MVC) - 6 p.m.
This Week in Valpo Volleyball: The final week of regular season action sees Valpo head west for the Iowa road swing, as the Beacons play at UNI on Friday evening and at Drake on Saturday evening. Having already secured at least the fourth seed for the upcoming MVC Tournament, one win this weekend would get Valpo to the 20-win mark, while two victories guarantees a tie for third place in the standings and a shot at the third seed.
Previously: Facing the two squads just ahead of them in the conference standings, the Beacons earned a split of the weekend. Valpo dropped its first home match of the year on Friday, 3-1 to Illinois State, but bounced back with a 3-1 win on Senior Night over Bradley.
Looking Ahead: The MVC Tournament begins from Normal, Ill. on Thanksgiving evening.
Following the Beacons: Friday’s match against the Panthers can be seen live on ESPN+, while Saturday’s match will be carried on ESPN3. Links for the live video, as well as live stats for all matches, are available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 20th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 442 matches (442-215, .673) at the helm of the program 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 55 All-League recipients over her tenure at Valpo. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns a 497-239 (.675) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: UNI - The Panthers hold a 14-3 advantage all-time over Valpo, but the mark was 14-0 before Valpo came up with a pair of historic wins last season. The Beacons made it three wins in a row in the series with a 3-1 victory earlier this season at the ARC, with Haley Hart and Peyton McCarthy combining for 30 kills on .446 hitting.
Drake - Valpo is 11-4 all-time against the Bulldogs, including a 10-3 mark under Avery and a 7-2 record since joining the MVC. Valpo has won four straight in the series, out-lasting the Bulldogs in five sets earlier this season at the ARC. McCarthy led four players in double figures in kills with 15 in that victory.
Scouting the Opposition: UNI - The Panthers enter the final weekend at 12-17 overall. At 7-9 in MVC play, UNI is currently on the outside looking in for the MVC Tournament field. Freshman Taylor Alden ranks sixth in the conference in service aces and eighth in assists.
Drake - The Bulldogs are 10-14 overall going into the final weekend and have been eliminated from the MVC Tournament field with a 5-11 conference record. Drake leads the MVC in blocks/set and boasts two of the conference's top four blockers, including the individual leader in Kacie Rewerts (1.31/set). Haley Bush ranks fourth in the Valley with 3.82 kills/set as well.
Valpo Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll: For the fourth time in five seasons as an MVC member, Valpo has been picked to finish in seventh place in the conference standings in preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. Illinois State topped the poll with 79 points and three first-place votes, narrowly edging out Drake, which tallied 77 points, including three first-place votes. Valpo has outperformed its ranking in the preseason poll in each of its first four seasons in the MVC and is one of two programs (Illinois State) to post top-half finishes in the MVC standings in each of the last four seasons.
Looking Back at the Spring: The spring 2021 campaign saw Valpo post an 11-9 record and finish fifth in the MVC standings with a 10-8 mark in conference action. Rylee Cookerly repeated as MVC Libero of the Year, was named the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was an AVCA All-Region honoree, while Victoria Bulmahn was tabbed the MVC Freshman of the Year. Included among Valpo’s 11 wins were the program’s first victory over Illinois State since joining the MVC and the first wins in program history over traditional power UNI.
Who’s Back and Who’s New: The Beacons return 10 letterwinners, including four starters and the libero, from the spring 2021 campaign - a group which accounted for 75% of the team’s kills, 90% of aces, 82% of digs and 86% of blocks last season. Valpo also returns a pair of players who didn’t see action last season, while welcoming in one transfer and four freshmen.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play in the spring 2021 season, finishing the season ranked third nationally and second in the Valley with 20.37 digs/set. Valpo has ranked among the top-30 nationally in digs/set in each of the last 10 seasons, including leading the nation with 20.03 digs/set in 2017 to go along with a fourth-place rank in 2010 and a sixth-place finish in 2015. Since the move to 25-point scoring, only seven teams have averaged more than 20 digs/set over the course of a season, and Valpo is the only program to have done it twice. 2018 saw Valpo lead the nation with 2,613 total digs - a mark which set a program single-season record and a Division I record in the 25-point era. Valpo currently sits 31st nationally in digs/set with an MVC-best 16.63 digs/set.
Next Up, 20 Wins: With a 19-8 record, the 2021 Valpo squad has clinched a winning record, something which has been a standard for this program. This marks the program’s 18th winning season in head coach Carin Avery’s 20 seasons at the helm. One more victory would reach the 20-win milestone, something Avery’s teams have accomplished 15 times.
Look at the RPI: Valpo came in at #50 in the NCAA’s initial release of the 2021 volleyball RPI on Oct. 4, and the Beacons have maintained a spot in the top-100 ever since. In the most recent RPI release on Nov. 8, Valpo checked in at #77.
Glance at the Standings: With just two matches remaining in the regular season, Valpo sits in fourth place at 10-6 and can't fall below a tie for fourth, which would match the program's best finish since joining the Valley. Since Bradley and Illinois State - the two teams one game ahead of Valpo in the loss column - play each other on the final weekend, the Beacons are guaranteed to finish in a tie for third should they win both matches this weekend.
Potential Tournament Seeding Tiebreakers: With two wins this weekend, Valpo would finish 12-6 in MVC play and would be in a tie for third place.
Tie with Illinois State - ILS wins tiebreaker based on season series sweep - ILS 3, Valpo 4
Tie with Bradley - Comes down to power rankings (Valpo currently very slight edge based on current standings)
Valpo could also finish in a tie for fourth if it loses twice this weekend.
Two-way tie with Evansville - Valpo wins based on series sweep - Valpo 4, UE 5
Two-way tie with Indiana State - Comes down to power rankings, Valpo insurmountable advantage - Valpo 4, INS 5
Three-way tie with UE and INS - Valpo wins (Valpo 3-1; INS 2-2; UE 1-3) - Valpo 4, INS 5, UE 6
Chasing .300: Only four players in program history have posted a hitting percentage of .300 or better for a full season, and only two of those efforts have come in the rally-scoring era. But both of Valpo’s middles this year are currently on pace to challenge that mark. Haley Hart has boosted her hitting percentage to .316 this year, which would rank second in a season in program history, while Peyton McCarthy comes in just under the .300 mark at .295.
Cookerly Continues to Dig: Fifth-year libero Rylee Cookerly has checked numerous milestones off her lists of things to chase this season. First, she broke Valpo’s career digs record, previously held by Taylor Root, on Sept. 24 at Southern Illinois. One week later, on Oct. 1 against Indiana State, Cookerly surpassed former Illinois State standout Courtney Pence as the MVC’s career digs record holder. Finally, the next night against Evansville, Cookerly moved past Minnesota’s Paula Gentil for second place in NCAA history in career digs. Most recently, the two-time MVC Libero of the Year reached the 3,000 career dig milestone on Senior Night in the win over Bradley. Cookerly currently ranks 39th nationally with an MVC-best 4.79 digs/set.
McCarthy Stands Out: Fifth-year middle Peyton McCarthy has had a standout season on both sides of the ball for Valpo this year. Offensively, she is swinging at a .295 clip - sixth in the MVC - with a team-high 2.62 kills/set and has improved her career hitting percentage to .252, among the top-10 in program history. Her career total of 1,126 kills ranks 12th in program history and is just 38 away from the top-10. Meanwhile, on the block, McCarthy leads Valpo and ranks 10th in the Valley with 0.94 blocks/set. With 427 career blocks, McCarthy is just 16 away from second place in program history.
Hart Racks Up the Kills: Senior middle Haley Hart entered this season having led Valpo in kills just five times over her first three seasons. This year alone, however, Hart has paced Valpo in kills nine times, most recently picking up a team-best 15 kills in both matches last weekend and doing so on .414 hitting in the win over Bradley. Hart, who ranks fourth in the MVC with a .316 hitting percentage, has especially stood out since the start of conference play, registering a team-best 3.11 kills/set on .331 hitting. She has boosted her career hitting percentage to .269, currently fourth-best in program history.
Moving On Up: Fifth-year setter Brittany Anderson tallied 51 assists over last week's pair of matches, pushing her career total to 4,437 helpers. Anderson ranks 15th in MVC history in career assists - just 39 shy of 14th position - and is 14th among active D-I players in the category. She also ranks 17th in program history with 1,222 career digs.
Freshman Takeover: While Valpo celebrated its Senior Night on Saturday in the win over Bradley, it was a freshman who had perhaps the biggest standout performance. Elise Swistek soared past her previous season best of 11 in the kills department, recording 15 kills to tie Hart for match-high honors. She also obliterated her previous best hitting percentage mark, swinging at a .433 clip in the win. Swistek tallied 12 digs as well, her 13th time in double figures in that category this season and enough for her fourth double-double of the year.