Crusaders Look For Fourth Straight Mid-Con Championship
Thursday, November 16, 2006
THIS WEEK IN VALPO VOLLEYBALL: FRIDAY - November 17 - 5:00 p.m. - Cooper Aerobics Center - Valpo vs. Western Illinois
SATURDAY - November 18 - 2:00 p.m. - Cooper Aerobics Center - Mid-Con Championship

ON THE AIR: WVUR, 95.1 FM, in Valparaiso will carry the Crusaders' semifinal match against Western Illinois live in its entirety Friday night. The championship match Saturday afternoon will also be broadcast live on the radio and online, regardless of the participating teams. Eric Brooks and Adam Amin will be on the call.

THE MATCHUPS: The Crusaders split the season series with the Westerwinds, with Valpo prevailing in four at the ARC after WIU defeated the Crusaders in five at Macomb. The Crusaders hold the all-time edge in the series over Western, 26-6. Oral Roberts swept the Crusaders in Tulsa earlier this year after prevailing in five in their match at the ARC, and now hold a 14-10 advantage in the all-time series over Valpo. Valpo swept both of its matches against IUPUI this year, improving its edge in that all-time series to 15-12.

VALPO LAST WEEK: The Crusaders clinched a tie for second place in the Mid-Con with a three-game sweep of IUPUI after taking care of business the night before in a sweep at Chicago State. Nicole Schulz posted the second-best hitting performance in Crusader history against the Cougars, and earned her second consecutive Mid-Con Offensive Athlete of the Week award for her performance last week.

SCOUTING WESTERN ILLINOIS: The Westerwinds enter this weekend's tournament with their best seeding ever, courtesy of a 9-3 regular season Mid-Con record that included a victory over regular season champion Oral Roberts. Western Illinois is led by right side hitter Ashley Baker, who led the Mid-Con during regular season play with a .346 hitting percentage and ranked third in the league with 3.44 kills/game. Senior libero Jennifer Alexander set the Mid-Con career digs record earlier this year against the Crusaders, and leads the league with 5.52 digs/game. Sarah Trimpe and Lisa Suellentrop have split the setting duties this year for the Westerwinds, with Trimpe registering 8.52 assists/game to Suellentrop's 6.78.

SCOUTING ORAL ROBERTS: The Golden Eagles used an 11-1 Mid-Con record to clinch the top seed for the tournament. Ori Zuzic leads the league with 4.79 kills/game, while ORU claims four of the top six players in hitting percentage in the league. Thais Parada leads the Mid-Con with 12.12 assists/game, while Cris Alves is second in the league with 5.35 digs/game.

SCOUTING IUPUI: The Jaguars earned the fourth seed for the conference tournament with a 7-5 league record this year. Devika Bellamy has been leading IUPUI, taking care of setting duties half the time while playing as an right side hitter the other half of the time. As a result, she has recorded numerous triple-doubles this season, and ranks first on the team in assists (6.20/game) and hitting percentage (.257) and second in kills (3.14/game).

TOURNAMENT REIGN ON THE LINE: Valparaiso has won six consecutive Mid-Con Tournament matches heading into this weekend's tournament, and is looking for its fourth consecutive Mid-Con Tourney crown. The Crusaders are in an unfamiliar position this year, however, as they must play in the 2-3 game for the first time since the 2002 tournament. Valpo successfully defeated IUPUI and Oral Roberts on its way to the Mid-Con Championship in 2004, the last time the tournament was held in Tulsa, Okla. The Crusaders and Golden Eagles have combined to win every Mid-Con Tournament since 1994. Jessie Fox and Tiffany Meikle will be looking to repeat as All-Tournament Team honorees for the Crusaders.

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 last Saturday night moved its record to 20-11, a fifth consecutive 20-win season. The stretch is the longest such streak in program history, and the five 20 win seasons match the program's total prior to Carin Avery taking over the reins.

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.

PRESEASON POLL PROVES ACCURATE: The Mid-Con's seven head coaches picked Oral Roberts to end Valpo's run of regular season titles this season, and the Golden Eagles did break the Crusaders' stranglehold on the top of the standings. The two teams picked second and third, Valpo and Western Illinois, finished in a tie for second, while IUPUI finished exactly where projected in fourth place.

QUICKLY: One more win will make this year's senior class the winningest class in Crusader history. The 2006 class currently shares the distinction with last year's class, with both having won 103 matches.

PORCH� IN THE FAST LANE: Freshman Angie Porché leads the Crusader offensive attack this year with 3.72 kills/game, good for second in the Mid-Con. Her 391 kills are just eight shy of Valpo's single-season top-10 chart, and she is on pace to become the first Crusader freshman since Lauren Struss in 1992 to pace the team in kills. Porché has also been very efficient with her attacks this year, as her .248 hitting percentage is tenth-best in the leauge. Her devastating jump serve has led to 0.36 service aces/game, seventh-best in the Mid-Con.

NICOLE KNOCKS THEM DOWN: Middle blocker Nicole Schulz was named the Mid-Con's Offensive Player of the Week last week for the second consecutive week after one of the best Crusader performances of all-time against Chicago State. Schulz got set just 15 times against the Cougars, but put down 13 of the sets for kills without committing an attack error, good for a .867 hitting percentage, trailing only Cyndi Norman's .917 clip in Crusader history. Schulz's current hitting percentage of .338 is 27 points ahead of Valpo's single-season record, and ranks third in the Mid-Con. Schulz also sits fourth in the league in kills (3.33/game) and fifth in blocks (1.09/game), the only player versatile enough to be in the top-five of the league rankings in all three categories.

MARKS DIGS DEEP: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks has led the Crusaders in digs in each of their 31 matches this season, and has led Valpo for 38 consecutive matches dating back to last year. Her total of 578 digs this season is second-most in Crusader history, just 24 shy of the standard set by Sara Silcox during the 2004 campaign. Her 5.30 digs/game rank third in the league, while her 0.40 service aces/game are good for fourth in the Mid-Con. Her 44 total aces this year is also the tenth-best mark in a single season all-time at Valpo.

FOX ROCKS THE CHARTS: Middle blocker Jessie Fox is one of the most decorated players in Crusader history. A two-time Tournament MVP, Fox received All-Tournament accolades at the Mid-Con Championship last season after setting a tournament record by registering 19 blocks over two matches. Fox currently ranks among the top-10 in the league in hitting percentage (.282, 7th), kills (3.01/game, 9th), and blocks (0.89/game, 9th), one of just two players ranked in the top-10 in all three categories. Her 328 kills this season is a career-best total, giving her 1,036 markers for her career, eighth in Crusader history and just nine kills out of seventh position. Her career hitting percentage of .258 is fourth-best all-time at Valpo, while her 402 total blocks also rank fourth.

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 entering the 2006 season. Hughes, who appeared in just 22 matches and registered just 169 assists in her first two seasons as a Crusader, has stepped right in without a hitch this year, recording 1,135 assists to this point in the season, just 17 assists shy of Valpo's single-season top-10 in the category. Hughes' average of 11.46 assists/game is good for second in the Mid-Con, and she holds the three highest single-match assist totals in the league this year, led by 78 helpers at Western Illinois. Hughes has shown she can contribute in other areas as well, as she has registered 69 kills this year while hitting .234 and is also recording almost two digs per game.