Valparaiso (12-0, 0-0 MVC)
Friday, Sept. 23 - UNI (7-6, 0-0 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24 - Drake (9-4, 0-0 MVC) - 5 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 26 - at UIC (8-4, 0-0 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: A perfect run through the nonconference schedule culminated last weekend in Valpo's fourth consecutive tournament title, but now the Beacons turn their attention to the challenges that come with Missouri Valley Conference play. The MVC slate opens with three matches in four days, as Valpo will host UNI Friday night and Drake Saturday night before making the short trip to Chicago to take on UIC Monday evening.
Previously: Valpo claimed tournament hardware for the fourth consecutive weekend, winning the Roadrunner Classic with victories over UIW (3-2), UTSA (3-0) and Houston Baptist (3-0). Mallory Januski was named Tournament MVP, as well as MVC Player of the Week, while Victoria Bulmahn and Addy Kois earned All-Tournament Team honors.
Looking Ahead: Valpo stays on the road next weekend with the swing through central Illinois, facing Illinois State and Bradley.
Following the Beacons: Valpo's matches against UNI and Drake will both be broadcast live on ESPN3, while the match at UIC will be carried on ESPN+. All three 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 461 matches (461-217, .680) 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 515-241 (.681) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: UNI - The Panthers hold a 14-4 advantage all-time over Valpo, but it's been the Beacons who have swept the season series each of the last two years. Last season, Valpo earned four-set victories both at the ARC and in Cedar Falls.
Drake - Valpo is 12-4 all-time against the Bulldogs, including an 11-3 mark under Avery and an 8-2 record since joining the Valley. Valpo has won five straight in the series, including victories in both matchups last season - a five-set win at the ARC and a four-set win in Des Moines.
UIC - Valpo will renew acquaintances with the most-common opponent in program history on Monday evening, as the Beacons and Flames have met 55 times on the court. This will be the fourth different conference the two programs have shared membership in, as they previously played as North Star Conference, Mid-Continent Conference and Horizon League rivals. Valpo holds a 31-24 advantage in the all-time series and is 22-5 against the Flames under Coach Avery, including a 19-4 mark in the decade the two programs spent together in the Horizon League.
Scouting the Opposition: UNI - The Panthers enter Valley play at 7-6 following a challenging nonconference slate which featured a win over Iowa State. Emily Holterhaus leads the Panthers and ranks eighth in the Valley with 3.31 kills/set, while Carly Spies ranks fourth among MVC players in blocks (1.07/set) and Sydney Petersen fifth in digs (4.02/set).
Drake - The Bulldogs enter the weekend at 9-4, a mark which includes a win over Iowa. Drake leads the conference as a team with 2.26 blocks/set and is led at the net by Kacie Rewerts, who ranks third individually with 1.20 blocks/set. Jada Wills ranks second in the MVC in digs with 4.58 digs/set, while the Bulldogs also boast two of the Valley's top six in kills - Mariana Rodrigues (3.80/set, 3rd) and Haley Bush (3.63/set, 6th).
UIC - Entering their first slate of MVC competition, the Flames posted an 8-4 record in nonconference action which included a win over Miami (Fla.) when the Hurricanes were just outside the AVCA top-25 nationally. UIC comes to the Valley off a 2021 campaign which saw it win the Horizon League Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament. The Flames currently lead the MVC as a team in hitting percentage and assists, while individually, Martina Delucchi (4.09 kills/set) is atop the conference in kills and Zahria Woodard (1.24/set) in blocks.
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.
Winning Four Titles: Valpo's win at the Roadrunner Classic last weekend gave this year's team four in-season tournament titles this season, an unprecented accomplishment in the history of Valpo volleyball. Previously, Valpo had won three in-season tournaments on four occasions (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018). Valpo has now won 33 in-season tournament titles in head coach Carin Avery's 21 seasons at the helm of the program, including its home tournament seven times (out of 11 opportunities). The team has won at least one tournament in 16 of her 21 seasons, and multiple tournaments 11 times. Those tournament titles have come in 14 different states, with last weekend's the first in program history in Texas.
Best Start: With the five-set win over UIW to open up the Roadrunner Classic last weekend, Valpo improved to 10-0 on the season, breaking a tie with the 2015 squad for the most consecutive wins to start a season in program history. In fact, this year’s team is already tied for the second-most wins by a Valpo team before suffering its second loss. The 2014 team was 14-1 before taking its second loss, while the 2015 team was 12-1. Now sitting at 12-0, the 2022 Beacons squad is enjoying the best start to a season by any current MVC program since Drake opened the 2010 campaign with 14 consecutive victories.
The Winning Streak: Of course, the 12-0 start means that Valpo carries a 12-match winning streak into MVC play. This winning streak is one of six double-digit winning streaks in program history and currently stands alone as the fourth-longest all-time at Valpo. The 2004 team holds the program record with 14 consecutive wins, while the 2008 and 2014 squads both had streaks of 13 straight wins.
Ranks of the Unbeaten: As of the end of play Tuesday, Valpo sits as one of just six undefeated D-I programs in the country. The Beacons are joined by Auburn, Penn State, Texas, Towson and UCF in making it unscathed to this point of the season. Of that group of six teams, only Valpo and Towson own a 12-0 record, as the other four have played 11 or fewer matches.
Januski Stands Out: Junior middle Mallory Januski is enjoying a breakout season so far in 2022, as she currently ranks 11th nationally with a .425 hitting percentage - a mark which would be on pace to shatter Valpo's single-season record of .334. Januski was honored last week as both the Tournament MVP of the Roadrunner Classic and as the MVC Player of the Week, as she averaged 2.89 kills and 1.00 block per set and hit at a .548 clip over the three wins. She posted kills on over 60% of her swings over Valpo’s three victories and hit better than .400 in all three wins, highlighted by her performance in the victory over Incarnate Word. Januski tied her career high with 12 kills in the win over the Cardinals and hit at a career-best .688 clip, a mark which is second-best in a five-set match in program history.
Players of the Week: Januski's honor from the MVC office was the third weekly award presented to a Valpo player to date in 2022. Senior Bella Ravotto was named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 12 following her performance over Valpo's three wins at the Akron Invitational, while freshman freshman libero Emma Hickey picked up the defensive weekly honor following the opening weekend of action as she helped Valpo win the Youngstown Invitational. In its sixth season as an MVC school, Valpo has earned 24 weekly conference honors.
All-Tournament Honors: Setters Victoria Bulmahn and Addy Kois joined Januski on the All-Tournament Team at the Roadrunner Classic for their work running the Valpo offense. The Beacons hit .250 over the three wins, averaging 14.64 kills/set for the tournament. Perhaps apropos given the balance of this year's squad through the nonconference slate, nine different Beacons earned All-Tournament accolades at the three tournaments where an All-Tournament Team was named. Senior Gretchen Kuckkan was MVC of the Popcorn Classic and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by fellow seniors Maddy Boyer and Kara Cooper. On opening weekend at the Youngstown Invitational, sophomore Elise Swistek was awarded the MVP award, while senior Bella Ravotto and freshman Emma Hickey picked up All-Tournament accolades.
Standout Performances: Januski's entry into Valpo's record book in the UIW match was the third performance this season resulting in a record book edit. On Sept. 3, senior Gretchen Kuckkan delivered 25 kills in Valpo's four-set win over Northern Illinois - tied for fourth-most in a four-set match by a Valpo player in the 25-point era and making her one of just five Valpo players to tally 25+ kills in any length match in the 25-point era. It was then a team performance which cracked the record book Sept. 9, as the Beacons posted 15.5 total team blocks in their win at Akron - fourth-most in a four-set match by a Valpo squad in the 25-point era and the most blocks Valpo has recorded in any length match since Nov. 15, 2019.
Reaching 1000: While Bella Ravotto has picked up an All-Tournament Team honor and a MVC Defensive Player of the Week award already this season, she also found herself moving past a milestone during the early portion of the campaign. With her 27th dig of the win at Cleveland State Sept. 10, the senior reached the 1,000-dig mark for her career. Ravotto is the 23rd player in Valpo volleyball history to reach four figures in digs.
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. It's been more of the same so far this year, as the Beacons enter MVC play ranked 10th nationally with 17.00 digs/set.
Consistency From Hickey: A big part of Valpo's strength in the back row has been its run of standout liberos, and freshman Emma Hickey has slotted right into that role this season and maintained the prolificacy. Through four weekends of action, Hickey ranks 12th nationally, averaging 5.28 digs/set, and it's been a steady run of performances for the rookie so far. Hickey has tallied double-figure digs in 10 of Valpo's 12 matches, including eight matches with at least 20 digs.
But It's Not Just Digs: Valpo owning a spot near the top of the nation in digs is old hat. But this year's Beacons not only rank in the top-10 through four weekends in digs, they also sit inside the top-10 in kills, entering the weekend sixth nationally with 14.30 kills/set. Valpo has not finished a match with fewer kills than its opponent yet this season, and has out-killed its opponents by double figures in eight out of 12 matches.
So Much Balance: It just goes to show how deep this year's Valpo team is that, despite ranking near the top nationally in kills/set, you have to scroll all the way down to 20th place within the Valley to find the Beacons' top producer of kills so far this season - Kara Cooper, with 101 kills, is the only Valpo player in triple digits. Five other players have anywhere from 71 to 89 kills. That balance has shown from match to match as well, as eight different players have led the team in kills in at least one match, and Bella Ravotto's three team-high performances are the most of any Beacon.
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.