Valparaiso and Milwaukee went back-and-forth in a hard-fought match Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee, Wis., but in the end, the Crusaders fell 3-2 (27-25, 25-21, 14-25, 20-25, 15-12) to the Panthers in a matchup between the top two teams in the Horizon League preseason poll.
“It was a disappointing match tonight, as three times in the match, we gave away big runs which led to us losing sets,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “It was a good battle with Milwaukee - typical of the matches we usually have - and I was glad to see the way we fought back in sets three and four, but we turned around and gave up a big lead in the fifth set. We need to learn to stay aggressive and force other teams to play.”
The Crusaders looked to have control in the opening set, as a setter dump by junior Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) gave Valpo a 23-20 edge late. But Milwaukee rattled off four straight points to turn the tables and earn set point at 24-23.
A service error kept the Crusaders alive, and after a Valpo error, sophomore Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central) registered a kill to tie the frame at 25-all, but Milwaukee’s Julie Kolinske picked up consecutive kills to give the Panthers the opening set. The second set was tied at 18 apiece before the Panthers went on another late spurt, scoring seven of the final ten points to take a 2-0 lead into the in-game break.
It was a different Crusader squad which came out after the intermission, as Campbell and freshman Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) combined for 10 kills on 14 attacks in the third set. Valpo hit .522 as a team as it closed the frame on a 17-6 run after being tied at 8-8 to extend the match to a fourth set.
The Crusaders’ offensive leader through the first half of the season, Valpo fed Campbell early and often in the fourth set, and the sophomore delivered. Campbell registered 11 kills in the fourth frame alone on just 22 attacks to lead the way for the Brown and Gold. The Panthers were within 18-17 after a three-point spurt, but Campbell registered a pair of kills in a 5-0 run as the Crusaders took control, and a kill from senior Morgan Beil (St. Louis, Mo./Marquette) would force a decisive fifth set.
Valpo kept Milwaukee out of rhythm throughout the first half of the fifth set and was consistently in system itself, as senior Kelsey Victor (Logansport, Ind./Logansport) registered three kills and combined with Beil on a pair of blocks as the Crusaders jumped out to an 8-2 lead. But once the teams switched sides, the momentum switched as well, as Milwaukee ran off 12 of the next 14 points to earn match point at 14-10. Valpo held off two Panther chances thanks to a Graboski kill and a Milwaukee attack error, but a kill from Maggie Dunbar eventually ended the match in the Panthers’ favor.
Campbell led the Crusaders on Saturday with a match-high 21 kills, swinging at a .262 clip. Graboski registered a season-best 14 kills on .444 hitting, while Victor added 10 kills as well. Berrington handed out 47 assists and tallied 10 digs, while Campbell tied for team-high honors with freshman Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) and sophomore Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) with 15 digs apiece. Graboski and Victor each were part of six blocks, as the Crusaders ended the night with 12 team blocks.
Valparaiso (14-2, 1-1 Horizon) returns to its home court at the ARC next weekend for a pair of Horizon League matches, starting with a Friday night showdown against Youngstown State. First serve is slated for 7 p.m., with live video via the Horizon League Network, live audio on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso) and live stats all available through ValpoAthletics.com.