The Valparaiso University women’s basketball team has released its 2017-18 nonconference schedule, an 11-game slate that will help the Crusaders gear up for their first season of Valpo in The Valley.
“Joining the MVC is an honor and we want to get off to a great start before we compete with those teams,” Valpo head coach Tracey Dorow said. “Our team is dedicated to making this year special.”
After a home exhibition against St. Francis on Nov. 7, the new year of Valpo women’s basketball officially gets going on Thursday, Nov. 16 against IU Kokomo at the Athletics-Recreation Center. The Crusaders defeated the Cougars a year ago and prevailed in the first-ever meeting between the two teams in 2015. IU Kokomo is under the direction of a new head coach, Nicole Trawick.
IU Kokomo is the first of four instate foes on Valpo’s nonconference schedule this season.
“We wanted to maintain the relationship with them that started when a Valpo alum was their coach,” Dorow said. “We’re trying to support the programs in the state as much as possible. We’re always excited about playing a team from Indiana. They have a new coach and a lot of young players, so both teams will learn a great deal from this game.”
The first road trip of the campaign comes on Nov. 21 as the Crusaders take on Miami (Ohio) of the Mid-American Conference. The Crusaders and RedHawks will meet for the third time in the last four seasons. Four of the eight all-time matchups have been decided by three points or fewer, including two overtime affairs. Miami (Ohio), which finished last season at 11-21, is under the direction of first-year head coach Megan Duffy.
“They’re going to be much improved and so will we, so it will be a great game to watch,” Dorow said. “They also have a new coach, so they’ll be making a lot of adjustments. We were really disappointed in how we played against them in the past, so we will do a better job using our strengths. It’s always a challenge to play against MAC teams, and that’s especially important this year as their conference is similar to The Valley.”
The Crusaders welcome in Western Athletic Conference foe Grand Canyon for a Thanksgiving weekend contest on Saturday, Nov. 25. This will mark the first ever meeting between the Crusaders and Antelopes. Grand Canyon, now under first-year coach Nicole Powell, finished last season at 15-12 overall.
Next on the docket is a trip to Bowling Green on Tuesday, Nov. 28 to take on the Falcons, who posted an 8-23 record last season. The Crusaders will face a MAC school for the second time this year and renew a matchup with a team they haven’t played since 2008.
The Crusaders will board an airplane for the first time this season in advance of back-to-back games against Big South opponents on Saturday, Dec. 2 at Liberty and Sunday, Dec. 3 at Longwood. Last season, Valpo pulled out a dramatic win over Liberty at the ARC on a buzzer-beater.
“It could be that kind of game again,” Dorow said. “They were a young team last year, and they’ll still be young. They lost a couple of good players, but they also gained some talented players through the recruiting process. It will be a tremendous trip for us to go to another part of the country and see what it’s like to compete in that region.”
The game features a surplus of connections between the Crusaders and Flames. Dorow’s sister Andy Bloodworth is an assistant coach for Liberty, Valpo assistant coach Megan Leuzinger is a former Liberty star player and each school’s Directors of Basketball Operations previously worked for the opposite head coach.
“Valpo and Liberty have so many similarities,” Dorow said. “It will be special to see and play against the people with whom we have such close ties.”
An exciting stretch of games continues on Friday, Dec. 8 as Valpo visits instate Big Ten foe Purdue, the first meeting with the Boilermakers since the only win against a nationally-ranked opponent in the history of Valpo women’s basketball in 2008.
“There’s no doubt in my mind they’re not going to overlook us,” Dorow said. “We want to go in there and represent Valpo very well, just like the 2008-09 team did. Purdue had a great year last year, and they’re trying to build their program up. We’re excited to have an opportunity to compete against a Big Ten school in Indiana.”
The Crusaders will welcome Chicago State of the WAC to the ARC on Sunday, Dec. 10, another rematch of a game that Valpo won on a buzzer-beater last season. Then, NAIA foe IU Northwest will make the short trip to Valpo on Friday, Dec. 15.
“Many of those players are kids who have come to our camps,” Dorow said. “They’re going to be a lot better this year than what they’ve been in the past. Their coach is very excited about playing here again. They’ve got a nice program; we definitely can’t overlook them.”
Valpo pulled out a five-point win against Eastern Illinois a year ago, success the Crusaders hope to repeat when they hit the road to play the Panthers on Monday, Dec. 18 in the final nonconference road game. The nonconference slate concludes at home against Summit League opponent Fort Wayne on Thursday, Dec. 21.
“We went there for a scrimmage last year, and both teams were very inexperienced and really struggled during the scrimmage, but at the same time it was good for both teams to play each other,” Dorow said. “It’ll be interesting to play each other in a real game. We should be fairly evenly matched. They’ve grown a lot in the last year, and I know we have too. We must expect to go out and play well on our floor.”
The Crusaders return four starters and 10 letter winners from last year’s team, while also adding five freshman to the fold.
“Our team has made incredible strides from the end of last season,” Dorow said. “They set very specific goals to improve their individual skills and we saw each plan in action this summer. Our leaders have set the tone with their team-first mentality and the camaraderie of our players has never been better.”