The Valparaiso volleyball team claimed a pair of four-set victories to open the Jackrabbit Invitational in Brookings, S.D. on Friday, bouncing back from a first-set setback to down UMKC, 3-1 (15-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-14) in the tournament opener before defeating Stephen F. Austin, 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 25-14), later that afternoon.
Coming off of a hard-fought five-set victory on Wednesday evening over IUPUI, followed by the trip to Brookings, the Crusaders got off to a rough start against UMKC in the opening match, as the 'Roos hit .438 in the first set. But facing a 22-21 deficit after a 4-1 spurt by UMKC in the second set, Valpo dug deep, as freshman Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) registered two kills and a block during a four-point run to end the frame as the Crusaders evened up the match at one set apiece.
The third set was a set of runs both ways, with UMKC reeling off three consecutive points to close within 23-22 late. But Graboski recorded a pair of blocks, combining first with junior Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) and then with sophomore Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) on rejections to give Valpo a 2-1 advantage. The Crusaders cruised to the win in the fourth set, jumping out to an 8-2 lead and never letting the 'Roos get closer than three points the rest of the way.
“This morning's match was a struggle at first, after a tough mid-week match and a long bus ride,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I am really proud of the way we responded once we got our legs under us. It took us a while, but we made some good adjustments on their attackers.”
Campbell led the way in the win over UMKC with 18 kills on .319 hitting, while also adding ten digs and four blocks. Graboski hit .450 with 12 kills in a standout performance and also led all players with six rejections. Three other Crusaders tallied nine kills apiece in Valpo's balanced offense, which hit at a .274 clip for the match.
Berrington handed out 39 assists in the victory and totaled 12 digs as well for her fourth double-double of the season. Sophomore Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) paced all players on the back line with 20 digs.
The afternoon victory over Stephen F. Austin was interesting in that in the entire match, only once - at 4-4 in the first set - did the team that captured the first point of the set even fall into a tie. SFA scored three straight points to even up the opening frame before the Crusaders responded with six straight points to take control. The Ladyjacks answered with an 8-1 run to open the second set and eventually even up the match.
The Crusaders used a very efficient offensive performance in the final two sets to make sure that Stephen F. Austin would not threaten the rest of the way. Valpo hit at a .421 clip in the third frame, tallying 17 kills and committing just one attack error, and jumped out to a 9-3 lead to seize momentum. Then, in the final set, the Crusaders hit .389 with 17 more kills and surrendered just nine kills to the Ladyjacks.
“We did a really nice job attacking the ball in the night match,” said Avery. “We saw a lot of great things from the attackers, and Kelsey did a nice job distributing the ball. Our back row players did a very good job taking care of the ball as well.”
For the first time in her career, freshman Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) led the way offensively for Valpo, racking up an impressive 16 kills and committing just one error to end the match with a .417 hitting percentage. Campbell backed Ketcham up with 15 kills of her own, hitting .333, while senior Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) enjoyed the best hitting percentage of the match, swinging at a .478 clip with 12 kills. Overall, the Crusaders hit .307 for the match.
Berrington continued to push her career high in the assists column even higher, topping her mark from two nights ago with 56 helpers versus the Ladyjacks. Longoria registered another 20 digs to pace the Crusaders on the back line in the evening win, while fifth-year senior Lindsey Hauch (Coloma, Mich./Coloma) recorded 17 digs and Campbell chipped in 11 for a double-double.
Valparaiso (5-1) plays for the tournament championship Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. against host South Dakota State. Live stats for the match will be available through ValpoAthletics.com.