Valparaiso (2-4, 0-0 Missouri Valley)
Crusaders head to the Empire State
at Cornell Invitational - Ithaca, N.Y.
Friday, Sept. 8 – 4 p.m. CT – vs. St. John's (5-2, 0-0 Big East)
Saturday, Sept. 9 – noon CT – vs. Binghamton (3-4, 0-0 America East)
Saturday, Sept. 9 – 6 p.m. CT – at Cornell (1-2, 0-0 Ivy)
This Week in Crusader Volleyball: Early-season tournament action continues for the Valparaiso University volleyball program this week with a trip to Ithaca, N.Y. for the Cornell Invitational. The Crusaders, who enter the weekend leading the nation in digs, will face off with St. John's and Binghamton before concluding tournament play against the host Big Red.
Previously: Valpo went 1-2 last weekend at the Jackrabbits Invitational, closing the tournament with a sweep of South Dakota State after falling to CSU Bakersfield and Northern Arizona. Freshman Ally Cummings represented the Crusaders on the All-Tournament Team.
Looking Ahead: The Crusaders open the home schedule with a mid-week matchup against Eastern Illinois next Wednesday, Sept. 13. Valpo then closes pre-conference play at Western Illinois on Friday, Sept. 15, facing the host Leathernecks as well as McNeese State.
Following the Crusaders: All three matches this weekend will have live stats available through ValpoAthletics.com. In addition, all three matches will have pay video available via the Ivy League Network.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 16th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 356 matches (356-155, .697) at the helm of the Crusaders and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles, as well as three NCAA Tournament appearances. A two-time league Coach of the Year, Avery has coached 49 All-League recipients over her tenure as Crusader head coach. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns 411 career victories overall as a head coach.
Series Notes: St. John's and Cornell - First meeting
Binghamton - Valpo claimed the only previous matchup with the Bearcats as part of the Western New York Invitational in September of 2007, outlasting Binghamton for a five-set victory. Val Bollenbacher shattered her career high with a match-high 26 kills in the win, while Brittany Malicoat tallied 31 digs.
Scouting the Opposition: St. John's - The Red Storm enter the weekend at 5-2 this season, most recently going 2-1 last weekend with wins over Albany and Colgate and a loss to Temple. St. John's posted a 16-15 record in 2016, including a 7-11 mark in Big East play.
Binghamton - The Bearcats sit at 3-4 on the year following a mid-week sweep of Siena. They went 13-14 last season and finished at 7-5 in the America East Conference.
Cornell - Cornell opened its season last weekend at James Madison, dropping a pair of three-set contests to JMU and Drake before ending the weekend on a winning note with a four-set win over Hampton. The Big Red went 12-12 in 2016 and were 6-8 within Ivy League action.
Digging Deep: Valpo has a long tradition of strong defensive play, as the program has ranked among the top-20 nationally in digs/set in each of the last seven seasons - including a sixth-place placement in 2015 and a fourth-place finish in 2010. Through two weekends this season, however, no team has racked up more digs per set than the Crusaders nationally, as Valpo is averaging an astounding 20.95 digs/set through six matches - nearly a full dig more than second-place North Dakota State. Four different players are averaging at least three digs/set for Valpo so far this year.
Cookerly Picks Up Award: Following a second consecutive big weekend at libero for the Crusaders, freshman Rylee Cookerly was named the MVC Freshman of the Week. Cookerly followed up her school-record 43-dig effort at Notre Dame on opening weekend by averaging 7.10 digs/set over the Crusaders' three matches last weekend - including 28 digs in a three-set match with Northern Arizona, just two shy of Valpo's top-five totals for a three-set contest. Through two weekends, Cookerly ranks third in the nation individually, averaging 6.86 digs/set.
Strong Start: The Crusaders have a decorated lineage of four-year liberos, but Cookerly's start to her career has dwarfed them all. Cookerly has tallied 144 digs over her first six matches, way ahead of where Valpo's last three freshman liberos - Morganne Longoria (82), Taylor Root (97) and Brittany Malicoat (2 - did not become starting libero until 1/3 of way through season) - sat at the same point early in their careers.
Cummings Earns All-Tournament Accolades: Freshman Ally Cummings represented the Crusaders on the All-Tournament Team at South Dakota State, averaging 2.88 kills/set while hitting at a .274 clip in her second career weekend of play. Cummings tallied five kills in just one set of action against Northern Arizona, and enjoyed her best performance in the sweep of SDSU in the tournament finale, hitting .471 with nine kills and adding three blocks.
Youngsters Raking In the Honors: Cummings became the third Crusader freshman through two weekends to be named to an All-Tournament Team, as Cookerly and Brittany Anderson picked up All-Tournament recognition on opening weekend at Notre Dame. The duo became the first Crusader rookies to earn All-Tournament honors in their debut tournament since 2013 (Morganne Longoria), and it's the first known time in program history that two Valpo freshmen have both earned All-Tournament Team honors following their first career tournament. Dating back to at least 2002, this is the first time the Crusaders have had three different freshmen pick up All-Tournament accolades in early-season play.
Ketcham Reaches a Milestone: Redshirt junior Allison Ketcham has picked right up where she left off prior to injury last season with her back row play, averaging 4.10 digs/set through six matches this year. Last weekend, in the tournament opener against CSU Bakersfield, Ketcham surpassed the 1,000-dig mark for her career midway through the third set. It took Ketcham, who led the Horizon League in digs by non-liberos in each of her first two seasons, just 80 matches to reach four figures in the category.
Lots of New Faces: After graduating six seniors from last year's squad, fans will be forgiven if they need a program to ID the Crusaders at the start of the season. Valpo returns just seven letterwinners while adding six incoming freshmen to the 2017 squad. However, among the returnees are Valpo’s top two in total kills from 2016 (Taylor Graboski, Katherine Carlson), its leader in assists (Lizzie Zaleski), its leader in service aces (Carlson) and two of its top three in blocks (Sydney Bronner, Graboski).
Crusaders Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll: Valpo has been picked to finish in seventh place in the Missouri Valley Conference during the 2017 season, according to preseason polling of the league’s head coaches. The Crusaders totaled 32 points in the polling to place seventh. Defending champion Missouri State received nine of 10 first-place votes and sat atop the poll, while UNI picked up the other first-place nod and placed second. This year is the first time in the last 15 seasons Valpo has been picked lower than third in a conference preseason poll.
Looking Back at 2016: Battling through adversity, the Crusader volleyball team finished the 2016 campaign 15-19, including a 6-10 mark in Horizon League play. It was the first season Valpo had failed to reach the 20-win milestone since 2001. Valpo was hit by a multitude of injuries, including ailments which sidelined both of the squad’s setters. But Avery implemented an unprecedented strategy, utilizing libero Morganne Longoria as the team’s setter simultaneously with her role as libero. Over the season’s final 13 matches, with Longoria playing as both libero and setter, the Crusaders went 7-6. Longoria was named an Honorable Mention All-American by Volleyball Magazine and was the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, while fellow graduated senior Emily Campbell was an Honorable Mention All-League selection.
Valpo In The Valley: The 2017-18 school year is a significant season for the Valpo athletics department as a whole, as on July 1, Valparaiso University became a member of the Missouri Valley Conference following a decade of membership in the Horizon League. The Valley, which has sent at least three teams to the NCAA Tournament in seven of the last 10 seasons, is celebrating 25 years of women's competition in the conference this season.