Six Crusaders tallied between seven and nine kills Saturday evening as the Valparaiso offense hit at a .254 clip in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-10, 25-22) sweep of UIC in Horizon League play at the ARC.
The Crusaders were led by nine kills from freshman Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove), but she had plenty of help offensively. Opposite Dooms was freshman Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport), who registered seven kills on .333 hitting. Junior Amy Groesbeck (Wheaton, Ill./North) also posted seven kills from the right side, hitting .350 for the match as she did not commit an attack error.
Both Valpo middles, senior Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and senior Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie), recorded seven kills as well. Running the offense all night was junior Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva), who handed out 32 assists on the evening and also put down seven kills on .438 hitting to add to the balanced attack.
“Having a balanced attack like we had tonight is going to be a key to our success down the stretch,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “When we spread the ball around offensively like this, we make ourselves a hard team to scout because we’re so balanced.”
Meanwhile, the Crusader defense got the job again Saturday, both at the net and in the back row. Layman posted six blocks on the evening, three of them of the solo variety and five of them coming in a 10-point stretch to open the second set, as Valpo tallied eight total team rejections. When the ball got to the back line, the Crusaders picked up 70 digs, out-digging the Flames by 18. Sophomore Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led the way with a match-high 21 digs, while fifth-year senior Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) tallied 14 digs and Pokorny added 13 for her 12th double-double of the year.
“I think that again our defensive effort, both blocking and picking up digs behind the block, was wonderful tonight,” said Avery. “Our defensive execution has been really sharp these last three matches and is a big reason why we’ve won the last three times out.”
Valparaiso maintained a lead throughout the opening frame, but after jumping out to an 8-3 advantage, the Flames fought back to within 11-10. The Crusaders used back-to-back kills by Diebler and Victor after a UIC service error later in the frame to push the lead to 17-13, but the Flames hung around, crawling back to within two points at 20-18. But another service error turned the serve over to Valpo, and Dooms stepped back to serve back-to-back aces, two of her four aces on the night, to give the Crusaders breathing room. Valpo eventually ended the set on a kill by Layman to take the opener.
Pokorny and Dooms had kills and Diebler a service ace in a 9-2 run to start the second set, but the story of the opening part of the frame was the play of Layman at the net. The senior picked up five blocks, including three solos, in the opening run and was joined by Dooms on the other two stuffs. Valpo cruised to the set victory from there, as a three-point spurt on kills by Dooms, Victor and Layman sent the Crusaders into the locker room up two sets to none.
It looked like Valpo would cruise to the sweep as it took a 10-5 lead nearing the midway point of the third set, getting kills from all five hitters during the first half of the frame. But the Flames fought back to make a game of it, putting together a 7-2 run to tie the frame at 12-all. The Crusaders responded, as sophomore Mary Dent (Chicago, Ill./Von Steuben) posted a pair of kills around a UIC hitting error to take a three-point edge at 15-12.
UIC answered with a 5-1 spurt to take its first lead of the set at 17-16, and the two sides would trade sideouts for the next six points as the Flames continued to hold off the Crusaders. A Valpo attack error gave UIC a two-point lead at 21-19, but the Crusaders dug their heels in and got a kill from Dooms followed by another service ace from the freshman to again tie the set. Out of a UIC timeout, the Flames committed an attack error and the Crusaders then got back-to-back kills from junior Katie Britton (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian), in for her first rotation of the match, to earn match point. On their second chance, the Crusaders closed out the sweep as for the third time in the match, Layman tallied a kill to end the set.
Valpo out-killed its opponent by double figures for the third straight contest, picking up 48 kills to just 30 for UIC (11-13, 6-6 Horizon). The Flames were led by eight kills and 11 digs from Kelsey Safranek, while Taylor Szatkowski picked up 14 digs from the libero spot for UIC.
Valparaiso (19-5, 7-4) finds itself just one win shy of the 20-win mark for the ninth straight season with Saturday’s win. The Crusaders will attempt to earn the milestone victory on Monday evening, as they travel to SIU Edwardsville for a non-league showdown. First serve is set for 7 p.m., and all the action can be heard live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso and online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have a link for live stats.