For the third straight Saturday, the Valparaiso volleyball team went five sets in Horizon League play, and for the third straight week, the Crusaders came out on the wrong end of the decision, dropping a 3-2 (25-20, 24-26, 28-26, 20-25, 15-12) contest at Oakland Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale.
Oakland never relinquished the lead past the midway point of the opener to take the first set. It looked like Valpo was easily poised to knot up the match at one set apiece in the second frame, as the Crusaders led 24-19, but the Grizzlies erased all five set point chances. But with the set now tied at 24-all, junior Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) came up with a kill and then senior Ariel Cudney (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) recorded a service ace to send the match into the in-game break tied at 1-1.
Both teams would have multiple opportunities to claim the third set as it went into extra points. Oakland led 24-22, but kills from senior Ellen Vanden Berg (Little Chute, Wis./Little Chute) and Beil fought off the Grizzlies’ two set point chances. Vanden Berg then registered an ace to give the Crusaders set point at 25-24. Oakland tallied a kill to extend the set, and while a service error made it 26-25 Valpo, the Grizzlies scored the final three points of the set on a pair of kills and a block to take the 2-1 advantage.
The fourth set looked destined for extra points as well, entering the late stages tied at 19-19. But the Crusaders received kills from three different players and a pair of blocks by Vanden Berg and freshman Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) as part of a 6-1 run to close the fourth frame and send the match to a decisive fifth set. The Grizzlies led throughout much of the fifth set, however, and while Valpo put together a three-point spurt on a kill from Vanden Berg and two kills by Beil to close within 13-12 late, Oakland posted back-to-back kills to close out the match.
For the second straight day, the Crusaders had a player enjoy a career night offensively, this time the junior Beil. Beil passed her previous career high in the kills category, tallying 19 kills on .350 hitting. Vanden Berg also posted a season-best offensively, hitting .444 with 15 kills. Cudney dished out 24 assists and sophomore Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) registered 32 assists.
A balanced effort in the back row was led by senior Sarah Dooms (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove), who paced four players in double figures with 17 digs. Berrington (14 digs) and Cudney (12 digs) each picked up double-doubles. At the net, Vanden Berg was part of six of the Crusaders’ eight team blocks.
Oakland (15-14, 9-5 Horizon) received a match-high 22 kills from Cassie Pelloni, while Melissa Deatsch checked in with 20 kills. Taylor Humm led all players with 23 digs, and Brooke Wadsworth posted 11 blocks.
Despite the loss, Valparaiso (24-7, 10-4 Horizon) finished the league slate in second place by itself, earning the second seed for the Horizon League Championship and the corresponding bye into the semifinals. The Crusaders will open tournament play in Milwaukee on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. against a team to be determined following Friday’s matches.