Valparaiso (3-0, 0-0 MVC)
Popcorn Classic (Valparaiso, Ind.)
Friday, Sept. 2 - SIUE (2-0) - 10 a.m.
Campbell (1-2) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3 - Northern Illinois (2-1) - 5 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: Coming off of a successful opening weekend in which it claimed a tournament title, the Valpo volleyball team aims to keep the momentum rolling as it opens the home slate this weekend by hosting the Popcorn Classic. The Beacons welcome SIUE, Campbell and Northern Illinois to town for the two-day, six-match event.
Previously: Valpo rolled to the championship of the Youngstown Invitational in the season's first weekend, beating Delaware State (3-1), Idaho (3-0) and Youngstown State (3-1). Elise Swistek was honored as Tournament MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Bella Ravotto and Emma Hickey.
Looking Ahead: The Beacons travel to Ohio next weekend for an event co-hosted by Akron and Cleveland State. Valpo will face Morgan State at Akron on Friday morning before facing each of the co-hosts.
Following the Beacons: Valpo's campus radio station, WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso), will be doing a radio broadcast of the Beacons' matchup Friday night against Campbell. All tournament matches will have live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 21st season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 452 matches (452-217, .676) at the helm of the program and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles. The program has made five postseason appearances under Avery, including three NCAA Tournament appearances, and advanced to the championship match of the 2021 NIVC. A two-time league Coach of the Year, Avery has coached 58 All-League recipients over her tenure at Valpo, which has spanned three different conferences. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns a 507-241 (.678) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: SIUE - Valpo has won all three matchups with the Cougars, all of which have come under Coach Avery. The two squads met last year in Edwardsville, a 3-0 sweep for Valpo which saw Gretchen Kuckkan and Bella Ravotto combine for 17 kills and 0 hitting errors on 36 swings.
Campbell - The Camels won the only prior meeting between the two programs, a 3-2 decision in Durham, N.C. during the opening weekend of the 2014 season. That was the only blemish on Valpo's 14-1 start to that campaign.
Northern Illinois - The Huskies have a dominating 17-1 advantage in the all-time series, but the two squads have not met since 2003 (a 3-2 NIU win), and that matchup was the only one in the series since 1996.
Scouting the Opposition: SIUE - The Cougars won both of their matches last weekend, sweeping Grambling State and edging SIU in five sets. SIUE posted a 6-23 mark last year, including a 3-15 record in OVC play, and was picked to finish in seventh place in the OVC this season.
Campbell - The Camels posted a 1-2 record on opening weekend, beating Morgan State (3-0) and falling to Syracuse (3-1) and Charlotte (3-1). Campbell was picked second in the Big South preseason poll after winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NCAA Tournament a season ago as part of a 21-win season.
Northern Illinois - The Huskies went 2-1 last weekend, with wins over NJIT (3-0) and UIC (3-0) and a loss to South Dakota State (3-0). Last season, NIU posted a 16-13 record, including a 10-8 mark in MAC competition, and was picked to finish fourth in the MAC West this season.
Valpo Picked Fifth in Preseason Poll: The Beacons have been picked to finish in fifth place in the MVC standings in 2022 in preseason polling of the conference's head coaches. Valpo garnered 95 points in the polling, including one first-place vote, to rank fifth in a tight bunch in the middle of the pack. Valpo was just four points behind Bradley in fourth position, but on the other side, was just one point ahead of UNI in sixth place. Notably, Valpo has outperformed its preseason projection in each of its first five seasons in the Valley.
Illinois State received five first-place votes and totaled 134 points to lead the poll ahead of Evansville (121 points, two first-place votes). UIC (3) and UNI (1) also picked up at least one first-place nod.
Looking Back at Last Season: Valpo enjoyed one of the top seasons in program history last year, finishing the campaign with a 26-10 record. The Beacons posted a 12-6 record in MVC action to finish tied for third place in the regular season standings - the program's best record in conference play and best finish since joining the Valley. Valpo then earned a berth in the NIVC and swept each of its first four matches to advance to the tournament championship match. Haley Hart was a First Team All-MVC recipient, while Peyton McCarthy and Rylee Cookerly each earned Second Team All-MVC honors. Cookerly also became the first student-athlete in program history to be named a CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American.
Another Tournament Championship: It might be a new season, but it's more of the same for the program, as Valpo claimed the tournament title on opening weekend at the Youngstown Invitational. It was the 30th in-season tournament title for Valpo in head coach Carin Avery’s tenure at the program, as the team has won at least one tournament in 16 of her 21 seasons at the helm. It was the eighth title for Avery’s squads on the opening weekend of the season - the first since the 2015 team won the Chattanooga Classic en route to a 9-0 start to the season. Valpo’s offense dominated the opposition over the course of the tournament, averaging over five kills more per set and hitting at a .266 clip. It was the program’s best hitting percentage in a tournament (minimum three matches) since the 2018 squad hit .292 over three victories at Air Force’s Amy Svoboda Memorial Classic.
Hosting Success: This weekend marks the 11th time in Avery's tenure as head coach that Valpo will host an early-season tournament and is the first home tournament since 2018. Valpo has claimed the tournament title with a perfect record in six of the previous ten events, including most recently a 3-0 mark in the 2018 Crusader Classic. The program has never finished below .500 at a home tournament under Avery and has finished with one loss or fewer in nine of the ten.
Player of the Week: Starting at libero on opening weekend as a true freshman might be rare most places, but at Valpo, it's the norm, as the program's last four liberos have all started from the jump at the position. The most recent in Valpo's libero lineage, freshman Emma Hickey was named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week for her performance on opening weekend. Hickey averaged 5.36 digs/set and helped limit Valpo's opponents to just 9.73 kills/set over last weekend's three wins. She paced all players in two of the three matches, highlighted by a 28-dig effort in the Beacons' title-winning match against Youngstown State.
All-Tournament Honors: Valpo placed three players on the All-Tournament Team at the Youngstown Invitational, highlighted by the selection of Elise Swistek (3.57 kills/set, 3.43 digs/set, .404 hitting %) as Tournament MVP. Bella Ravotto (3.88 kills/set, 2.13 digs/set, .247 hitting %) and Hickey joined Swistek on the All-Tournament Team. Ravotto earned All-Tournament honors for the second time in her career, while it was the first-such accolades for Swistek and Hickey. Notably, Hickey is the fourth straight Valpo libero (Rylee Cookerly, Morganne Longoria, Taylor Root) to start on opening weekend at libero as a true freshman and receive All-Tournament Team honors.
Using the Whole Squad: Valpo was able to utilize nearly its entire roster en route to capturing the Youngstown Invitational. 16 of the Beacons' 17 players appeared at least once over the course of the three matches, with 12 of those 16 appearing in at least five of the 11 sets. Hickey, Addy Kois and Sophia Foster made their collegiate debuts and Olivia Blackketter her Valpo debut in the season opener against Delaware State, while Sam Warren made her collegiate debut and Miranda Strongman her Valpo debut versus Idaho.
Leaving a Strong Legacy: Valpo graduated five seniors from last year's squad, a group which was integral in the program's transition into the Missouri Valley Conference and made a pair of postseason appearances. The group of Brittany Anderson, Rylee Cookerly, Gabby Daniels, Haley Hart and Peyton McCarthy combined for eight All-Conference honors and led the Beacons to the championship match of the NIVC in their final season at Valpo. They enjoyed numerous individual accolades as well, highlighted by Cookerly - the two-time MVC Libero of the Year finished her collegiate career as the Valpo and the MVC career record holder in digs and ranks second in NCAA D-I history. McCarthy ranks second all-time at Valpo in blocks and eighth in kills - the only player in the top-eight in both categories - while Anderson is third in program history in career assists and Hart sixth in career hitting percentage.
Who's Back: Despite the loss of such a talented group, the Beacons do return plenty of experience, as 10 letterwinners from last year's squad are back in 2022. One spot Valpo returns plenty of experience is on the pins. Outside hitters Bella Ravotto and Elise Swistek and right sides Maddy Boyer and Kara Cooper were all starters throughout MVC play and in the NIVC last season. In addition, outside hitter Jillie Grant and Gretchen Kuckkan were starters during the non-conference portion of the schedule before suffering injuries right around the start of MVC action. While Valpo loses Cookerly out of the back row, the Beacons still enter 2022 with a strong back line. Ravotto averaged over three digs per set last year, is nearing 1,000 digs for her career and was MVC Defensive Player of the Week during the spring 2021 season when filling in for a weekend at libero. In addition, Swistek averaged over three digs per set as a rookie last season as well. Meanwhile, at setter, Victoria Bulmahn split time setting with Anderson in a 6-2 last season after earning MVC Freshman of the Year accolades for the spring 2021 season setting full time in a 5-1.
Who's New: The roster is rounded out by seven newcomers to the active roster. Setter Addy Kois and hitter Sam Warren both redshirted last fall in their first season at Valpo. The Beacons welcome a pair of transfer middles to the squad - senior Miranda Strongman (LIU) and junior Olivia Blackketter (Winthrop). Three freshmen round out the newcomers, highlighted by Emma Hickey - the first AVCA High School All-American to sign with Valpo in program history. Outside Sophia Foster and middle Claire Campbell enter their first collegiate season as well.
Conference Honorees: While Victoria Bulmahn was named MVC Freshman of the Year during the spring 2021 campaign and transfer Miranda Strongman was a Second Team All-NEC choice that same season, this year's roster features zero players who have earned First or Second Team All-Conference accolades in the Valpo uniform. The last time Valpo entered a season with no players who had been named First or Second Team All-Conference at Valpo was the 2006 season - that year's team ended up featuring future Valpo Athletics Hall of Famer Angie Porché as a freshman.
Standards Maintained: Posting winning records and winning 20 matches in a season have been standards for the Valpo volleyball program under Coach Avery, and the 2021 team maintained those standards. The Beacons posted their 18th winning season in Avery’s 20 seasons at the helm and won at least 20 matches for the 16th time in the last 20 years. In addition, Valpo has finished in the top half of the MVC standings in each of its five seasons in the conference - a feat only matched by Illinois State - and has posted top-half conference finishes in 28 of the last 29 years.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play last fall, finishing 15th nationally and leading the MVC with 17.13 digs/set. The program has ranked among the top-30 nationally in digs/set in each of the last 11 seasons, highlighted by the 2017 campaign in which it led the nation with 20.03 digs/set. Other top finishes include third nationally in the spring 2021 season (20.37/set), 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.