2006 Valpo Volleyball Season in Review
Friday, December 15, 2006

WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso's campus radio station, broadcast 25 of the Crusaders' 35 matches in 2006. Most of the matches were carried live over the station's airwaves and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics, while others were carried exclusively online at www.sportsjuice.com.

TOURNAMENT REIGN ENDS: For the first time in four years, Valparaiso's season did not end in the NCAA Tournament, as the Crusaders fell to Oral Roberts in a five-game match in the Mid-Con championship. Valpo advanced to the final with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Western Illinois in the semifinal match. Playing two five-game matches helped the Crusaders set a multitude of Mid-Con Tournament records. As a team, Valpo set new marks for kills in a match (93, WIU), assists in a match (88, WIU), kills in a tournament (178), assists in a tournament (169) and digs in a tournament (197). Individually, Nicole Schulz set a Valpo and Mid-Con Tournament record with 32 kills against WIU, and also set tournament marks for total kills (62) and total attacks (147). Sara Hughes set a Crusader record and tournament record with 82 assists versus WIU, and set a tournament record with 158 assists. Brittany Marks matched the tournament record for total digs with 62.

CHAMPIONSHIP AT MIAMI: The Crusaders closed out their season with back-to-back victories for the first time since 1990, earning the tournament title at the Miami Thanksgiving Invitational. Valpo swept Fairfield in its first match of the tournament before defeating the host Redhawks in four games to win the title. Tournament MVP Nicole Schulz stood out in both matches, tallying 19 kills on .438 hitting against Fairfield and following with a 22-kill, 4-block effort versus Miami. Joining Schulz on the All-Tournament Team were Sara Hughes, who dished out 95 assists and registered 17 digs over the two matches, and Allison Sears, who hit at a .583 clip with 15 kills against the host, the third-best performance in a four-game match alltime at Valpo.

20/5 VISION: Twenty wins. The number is one of those milestones that needs no explanation as to its significance. For the Valpo volleyball program, the win over IUPUI in the final Mid-Con match of the year gave the Crusaders their 20th win of the season, the fifth consecutive year they have reached the milestone.

HOME SWEET HOME: Since Carin Avery took the helm of the Crusader program prior to the 2002 season, Valpo has been a juggernaut on its home court of the Athletics-Recreation Center. Avery's teams have recorded a 51-7 home record (.879) in her five seasons as head coach. Only two Mid-Con schools have beaten the Crusaders at home over that five-year stretch: IUPUI in five games in 2003, and Oral Roberts in five games earlier this season.

WINNINGEST CLASS: While the 2006 Crusaders boasted just one four-year senior, Jessie Fox, the senior class will go down as the all-time winningest class in Valpo history. Between 2003 and 2006, Valpo won 106 matches while losing just 33, for an incredible .763 winning percentage. The 106 wins breaks the all-time four-year record held by the class of 2005, which accumulated 103 victories.

SCINTILLATING SCHULZ: Junior middle blocker Nicole Schulz played in just 19 matches during her first two years on the Crusader roster. Given a chance to play full-time, however, Schulz more than proved that she deserved her roster spot, leading the Crusaders to a 23-12 record with her play in the middle. Schulz closed out the season hot, earning Mid-Con All-Tournament honors after setting tournament records for kills in a match and a tournament, and followed by earning MVP honors as the Crusaders captured the Miami Thanksgiving Invitational. Schulz's 32 kills in the Mid-Con tournament against Western Illinois set a new Valpo single-match record, while she also broke Valpo's single-season hitting percentage record, swinging at a .334 clip for the year, second-best in the Mid-Con. Schulz also led the Crusaders with 1.06 blocks/game, good for fifth in the league, and finished second on the team and third in the league with 3.72 kills/game. She was one of just two players in the league to rank among the top-10 in all three categories. Schulz paced the Crusaders in kills in 12 matches in 2006, including six of the last eight, and in blocks 15 times. For her efforts, Schulz was named to the All Mid-Con second team.

FOX ROCKS THE CHARTS: Middle blocker Jessie Fox closed out her Valpo career in style. The senior earned her third consecutive second team All-Conference honor for her stellar season, in which she finished second on the team in hitting percentage (.271), third in blocks (0.89/game), and fourth in kills (2.93/game), and was among the Mid-Con's top-10 in all three categories. She closed out her career among Valpo's all-time top-10 in five different categories, with her 417 total blocks ranking third on Valpo's all-time list.

MARKS DIGS DEEP: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks earned second team All-Conference honors in 2006 for her outstanding performance in the back row for Valpo. Marks led the Crusaders in digs in each of their 35 matches in 2006, and has extended her streak to 42 straight matches pacing Valpo in the category. She finished the season with an incredible total of 675 digs, surpassing Sara Silcox's previous school record by 73 digs. Marks' dig total also ranks as the second-best single-season total in conference history. She finished second in the league with 5.36 digs/game, and also ranked fourth in service aces, averaging 0.37 aces/game, the only player to rank among the league's top-five in both categories. Her 47 total aces is tied for ninth-best in a season in Valpo history. Marks has now accumulated 948 digs through her first two seasons with the Crusaders, putting her on pace to break Sara Silcox's career record.

PORCHÉ IN THE FAST LANE: Freshman Angie Porché became the first freshman to lead Valparaiso in the kills department in 14 seasons, tallying 480 kills on the season, third-best in Crusader history. With that mark came many honors, as Porché earned Freshman of the Year accolades from the Mid-Con, as well as being named to the All-Conference first team. Her 3.93 kills/game was second-best in the league, while her hitting percentage of .263 ranked eighth-best and her 0.32 service aces/game was good for seventh. Porché also earned All-Tournament honors at the Mid-Con Championship after totaling 56 kills over the tournament's two matches, the second-highest single-tournament mark in Mid-Con history, behind only Schulz's performance this year. She became the first Crusader to earn Freshman of the Year honors since 1995, when the award was known as the Newcomer of the Year.

HUGHES DISHES THE BALL: The value of a consistent setter to a successful volleyball offense is often overlooked. After losing two-time Mid-Con Setter of the Year Katie Bova to graduation after the 2005 campaign, Carin Avery turned to junior Sara Hughes to quarterback the Valpo offense during the 2006 season. Hughes, who appeared in just 22 matches and registered just 169 assists in her first two seasons as a Crusader, stepped right in without a hitch, recording 1,388 assists in 2006, the fifth-best single-season total in Valpo history. Hughes' average of 11.97 assists/game was the second-best mark in the Mid-Con, and she finished the year with the four highest single-match assist totals in the league, led by 82 helpers in the Mid-Con Tournament against Western Illinois. Hughes has shown she can contribute in other areas as well, as she registered 76 kills this year while hitting .214 and also recorded 2.05 digs per game.

A SOPHOMORE SENSATION: Middle blocker Allison Sears enjoyed a breakout season in 2006. After spending much of the 2005 campaign rehabbing from injury, Sears took full advantage of the opportunity to become a regular part of the Valpo rotation in 2006. Sears finished the season among the team's leaders in blocks (0.91/game, 2nd) and kills (3.03/game, 3rd). She ranked seventh in both categories at the conference level, joining teammates Schulz and Fox as the only players in the top-10 in both statistics. Sears closed out the season in style, hitting at a .583 clip with 15 kills against Miami to earn All-Tournament Team honors. Her .583 hitting percentage in the four-game match was the third-best mark in a match of that length in Crusader history.