Whether it was being down one set twice, being down 23-21 in the fourth set, or facing match point in the decisive fifth set, Valparaiso never folded on Friday evening, earning a come-from-behind 3-2 (9-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 18-16) victory over Green Bay in its Horizon League home opener Friday night at the ARC.
“Honestly, if you look at the stats and how many errors we made tonight, it's almost unbelievable that we won that match,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “We made an enormous amount of errors tonight. But I think when you win matches like that, it shows that the team has a lot of heart. Even though we weren’t playing near our best, our players believed in themselves enough to win the big points.”
The decisive fifth set reflected the nature of the match, as it featured five ties and three lead changes. The Phoenix scored the first two points of the frame, but Valpo answered with a 7-1 run, including two kills each from freshman Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) and senior Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute), to go ahead 7-3.
The Crusaders continued to push, eventually going up by five points at 10-5 on a kill by senior Janelle Hobbs (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead), but Green Bay responded with five of the next six points to close within 11-10. A Phoenix attack error and a kill from junior Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) put Valpo within two points of claiming the win.
The Phoenix would tally three straight kills to tie the set at 13-all, setting up a dramatic closing sequence in which both squads had match point chances before the Crusaders closed out the win. A kill by Beil gave Valpo the first chance at the match, but an attack error knotted things up at 14. Another Beil kill made it 15-14 Crusaders, but back-to-back kills by the Phoenix gave Green Bay its first match point at 16-15.
The Phoenix committed an attack error to once again tie the decisive set at 16 apiece. Senior Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) then stepped back to the service line and delivered, unleashing a jump serve which dipped in front of the Green Bay back row to make it 17-16 Crusaders. With its third match point chance, Valpo finally closed the door, as a Green Bay hitting error gave the victory to the Crusaders.
It looked unlikely that the match would get to the fifth set early on, as Green Bay dominated the opening frame. The Phoenix hit .609 in the opening set, sided out on all 10 chances and led start to finish. Valpo rebounded in the second set, however, thanks to a pair of late runs. A four-point spurt which included kills by Beil and senior Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) and a block from Beil and Hobbs gave Valpo a 22-17 lead. The Phoenix responded with five straight points to tie the set at 22-all, but Valpo answered with kills from Hobbs and Dooms, and a Green Bay error sent the match into the in-game break tied at one set apiece.
The Crusaders seem poised to take the lead in the match in the third set, leading from the beginning and forcing Green Bay's second timeout of the set at 20-16. But out of the stoppage, the Phoenix went on a 9-1 run to close the frame, going ahead two sets to one.
It would take a rally late in set four for Valpo to even force a fifth set. As in the third set, the Crusaders led by four points late, this time at 21-17, but Green Bay ripped off six consecutive points to move within two points of the match win at 23-21. A Beil kill gave the Crusaders a sideout, and Campbell followed with a termination to make it 23-all. Redshirt junior Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) then took care of an overpass, tallying a kill to give Valpo set point, and Campbell stepped up with another kill to even up the match at two sets apiece.
“Obviously, a huge turning point for us was late in the fourth set, when we were down 23-21,” said Avery. “To come back and win that set gave us a lot of momentum. It really gave us the emotional lift we needed at that point to start out strong in the fifth set.”
Beil led the Crusader offensive effort on Friday evening, finishing just one off her career high with 17 kills while swinging at a .364 clip. Campbell and Dooms picked up 11 kills each as well. Sophomore Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) handed out 32 assists and Cudney added 17 helpers.
Dooms and Campbell both finished the match with double-doubles, as the former led Valpo's effort in the back row with 19 digs and the latter tallied 11 digs. Freshman Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) added 14 digs as well. The Crusaders matched a team season high with 13 blocks, as the balanced effort at the net defensively resulted in at least three blocks for each of the six Valpo hitters.
Green Bay (7-8, 2-1 Horizon) got a match-high 22 kills from Monica Anderson, while Leah Van Zeeland totaled 15 kills and Shannon Hurley added 13 of her own. Jillian Bauer led all players with 24 digs, and Mikaela Gunderson was in on all eight of the Phoenix blocks.
Valparaiso (13-3, 2-0 Horizon) takes on the only other unbeaten Horizon League team on Saturday afternoon, as the Crusaders host Milwaukee. First serve is slated for 4 p.m., with links for live stats and live video through the Horizon League Network available at ValpoAthletics.com.