Valparaiso (15-2, 3-2 MVC)
Friday, Oct. 7 - Murray State (6-9, 2-3 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 8 - Belmont (7-11, 3-2 MVC) - 5 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: Coming off of a sweep of the central Illinois road trip last weekend, the Valpo volleyball team returns home to the ARC this weekend to face a pair of conference newcomers. Murray State will visit the ARC on Friday night, while the Beacons welcome Belmont to town on Saturday evening.
Previously: Valpo took care of business on the road last weekend, taking down preseason MVC favorite Illinois State in front of a crowd of 3,257 in four sets before surviving a five-set battle at Bradley the next evening.
Looking Ahead: After this weekend, Valpo plays four straight away from home, starting with the Iowa road trip next weekend. The Beacons will play at Drake on Friday, Oct. 14 before continuing on to face UNI on Saturday, Oct. 15.
Following the Beacons: Both matches this weekend will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and will also have live radio broadcasts on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). In addition, both 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 464 matches (464-219, .679) 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 519-243 (.681) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Murray State - Valpo has matched up with the Racers four times in program history, all at early-season tournaments and all Valpo victories: 2009 at Southern Illinois (3-0), 2011 at the ARC (3-0), 2014 at the ARC (3-1) and 2019 at IUPUI (3-1). Making her collegiate debut in that last matchup, senior Bella Ravotto had a double-double (11 kills, 15 digs).
Belmont - This will be the second meeting in program history between the two teams - Valpo claimed a 3-1 win in the only previous matchup, at DePaul in 2005. Katie Bova had a triple-double (10 kills, 48 assists, 14 digs) in that victory.
Scouting the Opposition: Murray State - The Racers come in with a 6-9 record and are 2-3 in MVC play after picking up wins over Indiana State (3-1) and Evansville (3-0) last weekend. They boast two of the top eight in the conference in kills/set: Jayla Holcombe (3.63, 6th) and Federica Nuccio (3.40, 8th).
Belmont - The Bruins enter the weekend at 7-11 overall, but are 3-2 in Valley play thanks to three consecutive victories over Murray State (3-1), Evansville (3-2) and Indiana State (3-0). Ally Peterson ranks third in the Valley in service aces/set (0.37), while Laura Shoopman tallies 4.04 points/set, good for sixth in the conference.
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.
A Look at the RPI: The NCAA released its first weekly RPI of the season on Monday, and Valpo sits atop the Valley in the rankings. The Beacons came in at #63 in the initial RPI release, one of four MVC teams in the top-100 (UIC-64, UNI-72, Drake-88).
Sweeping the Road Trip: For the first time since joining the MVC, Valpo captured both halves of the central Illinois road trip last weekend. Prior to last weekend, the Beacons were just 1-3 at Bradley and 1-6 at Illinois State since the start of the 2017 campaign. Valpo has now swept each of its four two-match road swings (having not yet played the Murray State/Belmont road swing) in Valley play exactly once apiece since joining the conference. Valpo did also win back-to-back nights at Drake in the spring of 2021 as well.
Many Ways to Win: Whether you like your victories with ease or full of drama, last weekend had something for everyone. While Valpo did drop one set in its victory at Illinois State, the three sets the Beacons win all came with plenty of room to spare, as the Redbirds did not score more than 16 points in any of those three frames. This stood in stark contrast to the meetings between the two programs since joining the Valley, as heading into Friday, Illinois State had not scored fewer than 18 points in any of the 43 sets played to 25 points between the two teams since the start of the 2017 season. Saturday night was a 180 from Friday night, as each of the first four sets between Bradley and Valpo finished within three points - three of the four going to extra points. At the end of the match, there were 37 tie scores over the five sets - the most in a Valpo match since the 2018 MVC Tournament semifinal versus UNI.
Middles Coming Through: Both of Valpo's middles enjoyed a strong match to help lift the Beacons to the five-set win at Bradley. Miranda Strongman matched her collegiate high and set a new best in her time at Valpo with a team-high 15 kills. Strongman hit at a .405 clip, committing zero attack errors on her 37 swings. Meanwhile, Mallory Januski tallied 14 kills to set her career high as well. The duo currently sit 1-2 among the MVC stat leaders for hitting percentage - Strongman atop the chart at .384, Januski right behind her at .375 - while Strongman also ranks fourth in blocks/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. Hickey was named MVC Freshman of the Week this past Monday for her play last week, averaging 5.25 digs/set and 1.67 assists/set. Through six weekends of action, Hickey ranks 13th nationally, averaging 5.26 digs/set, and it's been a steady run of performances for the rookie so far. Hickey has tallied double-figure digs in 15 of Valpo's 17 matches, including 12 matches with at least 20 digs.
Players of the Week: Hickey's Freshman of the Week honor on Monday was the fourth award to a Valpo player from the conference office this year and was Hickey's second, as she was previously named Defensive Player of the Week following the opening weekend of action for her performance at the Youngstown Invitational. Junior middle Mallory Januski was named MVC Player of the Week following her MVP weekend at the Roadrunner Classic, making her Valpo's third weekly award winner in 2022, while senior outside 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. In its sixth season as an MVC school, Valpo has earned 25 weekly conference honors.
Best Start: With the five-set win over UIW to open up the Roadrunner Classic, 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. The Beacons went on to start 12-0, and despite taking two losses in their last three matches, this year's team posted the second-best record by a team in program history before suffering its second loss - the 2014 team was 14-1 before taking its second loss. This year's squad enjoyed the winningest start to a season by any current MVC program since Drake opened the 2010 campaign with 14 consecutive victories. The Beacons now own a 15-2 overall record this year, matching the 2015 team for the third-most wins in a season in program history before suffering a third loss. The 2018 team went 17-2 before its third loss, while the 2014 squad was 16-2 before taking a third defeat.
The Winning Streak: Of course, the 12-0 start means that Valpo opened the season with 12 consecutive victories. This winning streak is one of six double-digit winning streaks in program history and 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.
Winning Four Titles: Valpo's win at the Roadrunner Classic 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 the Roadrunner Classic the first in program history in Texas.
All-Tournament Honors: Setters Victoria Bulmahn and Addy Kois joined MVP Mallory Januski on the All-Tournament Team at the Roadrunner Classic for their work running the Valpo offense. 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 found her way into Valpo's record book in the UIW match Sept. 16, posting a hitting percentage of .688 - the second-highest in a five-set match by a Valpo player in the 25-point era. Januski's effort 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.
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 are ranked seventh nationally with 17.00 digs/set.
So Much Balance: It just goes to show how deep this year's Valpo team is that, despite ranking in the top-60 nationally in kills/set, you have to scroll all the way down to 24th place within the Valley to find the Beacons' top producer of kills so far this season - Kara Cooper, with 139 kills. There is just a spread of 20 kills between her and the fifth-highest Beacon in the category, as Cooper, Bella Ravotto, Mallory Januski, Maddy Boyer and Elise Swistek all have between 119 and 139 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 five 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. With one more win, this year's team would secure the 19th winning season in Avery's 21 years.