Valpo to Close Out Home Campaign With Two Key Mid-Con Battles
Thursday, November 2, 2006
VALPO THIS WEEK: FRIDAY - November 3 - 7:00 p.m. - Athletics-Recreation Center - UMKC at Valpo
SATURDAY - November 4 - 5:00 p.m. - Athletics-Recreation Center - Western Illinois at Valpo

ON THE AIR: WVUR, 95.1 FM, in Valpo will carry both of this week's matches live over the airwaves and online at Eric Brooks and Maggie Foley will have the call of Friday's match, while Miles Janssen will join Brooks for Saturday's contest.

THE MATCHUPS: The Crusaders face two Mid-Con opponents this weekend that they have historically held a significant edge against. Valpo is 20-8 all-time against the Kangaroos of UMKC, including a 30-26, 30-28, 30-27 win earlier this season in Kansas City. Brittany Marks tallied 26 digs in that win, one of the best performances in a three-game match in Crusader history. The Brown and Gold own an even better all-time record against Weestern Illinois of 25-6, but the meeting earlier this season did not go Valpo's way, as the Westerwinds earned a hard-fought five-game victory.

VALPO LAST WEEK: The Crusaders took one out of three matches on a difficult road trip. Valpo downed Centenary in four games, led by 20 kills from Angie Porché and 16 apiece from Jessie Fox and Allison Sears. The next two matches were not as kind to Valpo, as the Crusaders fell in three straight games to both Oral Roberts and Missouri State. Brittany Marks totaled 44 digs over the weekend's three matches.

SCOUTING UMKC: The Kangaroos have just a 5-20 record on the season, but have improved greatly since starting the season with 12 straight losses. UMKC has been led by sophomore middle hitter Jacqui Wood, who leads the team with a .242 hitting percentage, good for 10th in the Mid-Con. Wood is also averaging 2.26 kills and 0.85 blocks per game. Junior middle hitter Sarah Johnson leads the Kangaroos in kills with 199 on the season, while senior outside hitter Angela Melka is averaging 2.69 kills/game after missing the early part of the season due to injury. On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore right side hitter Liz Pollock leads the team and is 10th in the league with 0.86 blocks/game, while Melka is also pacing the Kangaroos with 2.66 digs/ game.

SCOUTING WESTERN ILLINOIS: The Westerwinds enter Saturday's match in a three-way battle for second place in the Mid-Con along with the Crusaders and IUPUI. The Westerwinds sit just below .500 overall, at 11-12, but are 6-2 in conference play, with losses to Oral Roberts and IUPUI. Ashley Baker leads the way for WIU, as the junior right side has had a breakout season and has cemented herself as one of the top players in the Mid-Con. Baker leads the league with a .358 hitting percentage and ranks third in the Mid-Con in both kills (3.49/game) and service aces (0.40/game). Meanwhile, on the back line, the reigning Mid-Con Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Jennifer Alexander, is having another stellar season. She leads the league with 5.57 digs/game , good for 23rd in the nation.

THE CONFERENCE RACE: The Crusaders hold their destiny in their own hands when it comes to seeding for the Mid-Continent Conference Championship in two weekends. While Valpo cannot earn the #1 seed for the tournament, the Crusaders will guarantee themselves a spot in the 2-3 game with wins in their remaining three matches, including tilts against Western Illinois and IUPUI, the two teams Valpo is battling with for the league's second seed. Oral Roberts is in line for the #1 seed as the standing currently look, with the Golden Eagles needing just one win to clinch at least a share of the conference regular season title. Valpo will clinch a spot in the Championship with at least one win in any of its last three conference matchups.

PROGRAM ON THE RISE: One win this weekend for the Brown and Gold would guarantee that the Crusaders would finish with at least a .500 mark for the season. This year would mark the fifth consecutive year that Valpo has finished at or above the .500 mark, which would be a program best. The Crusaders had a four-season stretch from 1993 through 1996 that they finished at or above .500 in each of the campaigns.

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 49-7 home record (.875) in her five seasons as head coach. Avery has never lost to either UMKC or Western Illinois at the ARC. In fact, the Westerwinds have not been able to down the Crusaders at the ARC in 14 attempts.

PRESEASON POLL: The Mid-Con's seven head coaches picked the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles to end Valpo's run at the top of the league this season, and so far they've been right on, as the Golden Eagles lead the league with a 9-0 record. In the preseason poll, Valpo checked in second with Western Illinois third, IUPUI fourth, Oakland fifth, UMKC sixth and Centenary seventh. The Westerwinds earned the one first place vote not given to the Golden Eagles in the league.

QUICKLY: When the Crusaders take on UMKC Friday night, it will be Carin Avery's 162nd match as head coach, second-most in program history.

SENIOR CLASS: This weekend marks the final home matches in the careers of Valpo seniors Alex Chism and Jessie Fox. Fox has been a member of the program for four years, while Chism transferred in prior to her sophomore season. During their time as members of the Crusaders roster, Valpo has won multiple conference regular season and tournament championships and made multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament. They have also been a part of some of the winningest squads in Crusader history. When they take the court at the Mid-Con Tournament in two weeks, they will be looking to lead the Crusaders to a fourth consecutive tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

CHISM DIGS DEEP: Alex Chism has been a solid presence at defensive specialist in her three years as a part of the Crusader program. She made an immediate impact as a sophomore, earning All-Tournament accolades at the Billiken Invitational when she registered seven digs and four service aces against North Texas. Last season, she totaled 219 digs, including six matches with at least 10 digs, and set a career-high with 16 digs against Western Illinois. This year, she has tallied 139 more digs, and has recorded six more matches with 10-or-more digs, including matching her career-high with 16 against the Westerwinds.

FOX ON BLOCKS (AND KILLS): Middle blocker Jessie Fox is one of the most decorated players in Crusader history. A two-time Second Team All-Conference honoree, she has received Offensive Player of the Week honors from the league twice. She was named tournament MVP at the Ball State Classic as a sophomore and again at the Chicagoland Classic earlier this season. She also received All-Tournament accolades at the Mid-Con Championship last season after setting a tournament record by registering 19 blocks over two matches. Fox ranks among Valpo's all-time top-10 in kills (984, 10th), blocks (394, 4th), and hitting percentage (.255, 5th), and has also recorded two of the top-five single season block totals in program history. She needs just 16 kills and six blocks to reach 1,000 and 400, respectively, which would make her just the second player in Valpo history to reach both of those thresholds (Lauren Moulton).

MARKS LEADS THE BACK LINE: Sophomore libero Brittany Marks continues to pick up the digs match after match for Valpo. Marks is working on a streak of 34 consecutive matches leading the Crusaders in digs. She is averaging 5.31 digs/game this year, third in the league, and ranks third in the Mid-Con in conference matches with 0.44 service aces/game. Her 510 total digs on the season is already the fourth-best single season total in Crusader history with at least seven matches left to play. With 38 service aces this year, she is just five aces shy of breaking into Valpo's single-season top-10 in that category as well.

SCHULZ SOLID ON BOTH SIDES: Middle blocker Nicole Schulz is having a standout junior campaign. Schulz currently ranks among the top-10 in the Mid-Con in kills (3.08/game, 7th), blocks (1.16/game, 3rd), and hitting percentage (.313, 5th). She is the only player in the conference to rank in the top-three in each of the three categories. Additionally, if she maintains her current hitting percentage, she would break Valpo's single-season hitting percentage record of .311, set by Kelly Schoenhoft in 1998.

PORCH� IN THE FAST LANE: Freshman Angie Porché is taking aim at the Mid-Continent Conference Newcomer of the Year award with her performance this season. Porché leads the Crusaders and is second in the Mid-Con, averaging 3.61 kills/game. She also ranks just outside the league's top-10 in hitting percentage, swinging at a .237 clip.