In a match which seemed to encapsulate the season in a single contest, the sixth-seeded Valparaiso University volleyball team fought to the very end against third-seeded Northern Kentucky in a first-round matchup at the Horizon League Championship Friday before the Norse came out with the 3-2 (20-25, 29-27, 25-27, 25-21, 15-11) victory to end the Crusaders’ season.
The Crusaders, who were besieged by injuries all season long and played the final month-plus of the season without a full-time traditional setter, drew perhaps their worst possible matchup for the first round, facing a Northern Kentucky squad which had already swept Valpo twice during the regular season. But the Crusaders, as they had done all season long when faced with adversity, stepped up to the challenge, taking two of the match’s first three sets before coming up just short in the end. Along the way, senior Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) registered the first 30-30 effort in program history.
How It Happened
- Northern Kentucky looked to gain control early in the first set, as a five-point run gave the Norse an early 9-5 lead. The Crusaders would erase the deficit with a 7-2 spurt of their own, however, to take a 15-14 lead.
- The squads traded the lead back and forth over the next few points before back-to-back kills from sophomore Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) gave Valpo the lead for good at 20-19. The consecutive kills started a 7-1 run to end the set, as senior Jamie Lacheta (Warsaw, Ind./Warsaw) eventually gave Valpo the opener with a kill.
- Just like in the first set, it was NKU opening up an advantage, as the Norse led 13-8 at the midway point of the second set to force a Crusader timeout. Just as in the first set, however, Valpo would rally, scoring eight out of 11 points trailing 15-10 to even the set at 18-all.
- Valpo was unable to gain the lead outright until back-to-back kills by Lacheta and Carlson gave the Crusaders set point at 24-23. NKU would hold off that set point with a kill, and would do the same on the Crusaders’ next two set point chances following kills from Carlson and senior Emily Campbell (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Central).
- NKU earned its first set point opportunity at 27-26, but a kill from Carlson kept the set going. The Norse would receive back-to-back kills to close out the frame and send the match into the in-game break tied at one set apiece.
- The Norse held the early lead in set three as well, and after Valpo evened up the set at 14-14, NKU went on a 6-1 run to extend its lead to 20-15. The Crusaders scored seven of the next 10 points to close to within 23-22, and after a service error gave the Norse two set point chances, a kill from Campbell and an ace by Carlson extended the set.
- An NKU error gave Valpo the chance to win the set at 25-24, but a Norse kill evened the frame. Campbell recorded another kill to give the Crusaders a 26-25 lead, and junior Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) finished off the set with a kill of her own as Valpo took the 2-1 lead.
- The fourth set seemed to be the flip side of the first three, as it was Valpo with an early 7-3 advantage before an NKU rally to take the lead at 9-8. The Crusaders responded to reclaim the edge and held it as late as 18-17. At that point, however, NKU scored four straight – including three points on blocks – and while Valpo answered with three consecutive points to even the set at 21-21, the Norse scored the last four points to force a decisive fifth set.
- Neither team could gain a foothold early in set five, as the first multi-point advantage came at 8-6 for NKU. The Norse extended the lead to 10-7, and while Valpo responded with back-to-back points, the Crusaders were unable to string together a further run as NKU earned the win.
Inside the Match
- Much like the Crusaders’ five-set home win earlier this season against Wright State, Friday’s match with Northern Kentucky featured numerous long rallies, as the two squads combined for 490 total attacks and 252 total digs.
- Graboski led four Crusaders in double figures in kills with 20 kills on .246 hitting and also added 10 digs for her third double-double of the year.
- Campbell picked up 14 kills in her final career match. Defensively, she posted 22 digs in the back row and was also in on four blocks.
- Lacheta finished with 13 kills on 43 attacks – a career-high for attacks in a single match – and also tallied five blocks, three of which were of the solo variety.
- Carlson chipped in 10 kills, 14 digs and seven assists.
- Senior Rachel Bruinsma (New Era, Mich./Western Michigan Christian) handed out a career-high six assists while also posting eight digs and five blocks.
- Sophomore Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) led the Valpo effort on the block with six rejections as the Crusaders finished with 15 total team blocks. Bronner also put down five kills on 12 swings without an error.
- In her final career match, senior Tarrah Lasky (Valparaiso, Ind./Valparaiso) recorded her second double-double of the season with 17 assists and 13 digs, while fellow senior Lexie Bouza (Elgin, Ill./Burlington Central) tallied 18 digs in her final match.
- Longoria closed out her Crusader career by registering the first 30-30 effort in program history. The senior set a new career high with her 30 assists and also led the way for Valpo with 31 digs.
- Valpo limited NKU to .147 hitting for the match, nearly 100 points lower than the Norse’s effort in their most recent victory over the Crusaders.
- The match featured a combined 43 ties and 16 lead changes over the five sets.
Inside the Season
- The Crusaders finished the season with 15 victories and earned a spot in the Horizon League Championship despite their injury troubles throughout the year.
- Since moving to a non-traditional offense with Longoria acting as the primary setter, Valpo posted a 7-6 record over the season’s final 13 matches, with the senior averaging 5.86 digs/set and 5.43 assists/set.
- Longoria finished the year with 680 total digs, fourth-most in a single season in Valpo history as she surpassed Brittany Malicoat’s 2006 season and Taylor Root’s 2011 season on Friday. Longoria’s 680 digs are also tied for fourth-most in a single year in Horizon League history.
- Carlson registered 1,168 attacks on the season, 10th-most in a single year in program history.
- As a team, the Crusaders finished the year with 293 total blocks and 2,288 digs, moving into sixth and eighth place, respectively, on the program’s single-season charts.
Inside the Careers
- Campbell closes out her time at Valpo second in program history with 4,282 attacks and fourth with 1,418 kills despite missing a decent portion of her senior year. She also tallied 1,137 digs and 194 blocks in her career.
- Longoria ranks third in program history with 2,249 career digs, and also finished up with 594 assists – 266 of which came in her final 13 matches – and 90 service aces.
- Bruinsma totaled 502 digs and 184 blocks during her time at Valpo, while Bouza finished up her career with 432 digs and 113 assists.
- Lacheta picked up 297 kills and 86 blocks over her four seasons, while Lasky tallied 520 assists and 230 digs over her three years of action.
Thoughts From Head Coach Carin Avery
“What a great match today. I’m so proud of the seniors and our entire team for leaving nothing on the court tonight. It was a hard-fought match, and unfortunately we ran out of gas at the end and couldn’t pull it out.”
“I’m proud that we even made it to the tournament this season, considering all of our injuries. What we did this season at the end was amazing. It was fun to coach this group, and we truly enjoyed their competitiveness and the amount of fun they had together. This senior class will be missed – not only for how they performed on the court for us, but more importantly, what they brought to us and what they did off the court.”