The Valparaiso University volleyball team put together one of its most dominating offensive performances in recent history on Saturday to emphatically claim the Chippewa Invitational tournament title with a 3-1 (23-25, 25-8, 25-11, 25-16) victory over host Central Michigan. Senior Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) was named Tournament MVP, while classmates Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth) and Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) joined Zaleski on the All-Tournament Team.
How It Happened
- While Valpo’s strong offensive performance started in the opening set as it hit at a .325 pace for the first frame, CMU was stellar offensively as well, hitting .333 in the opener.
- CMU jumped out to an early 9-3 lead and still led 12-8 before a 5-0 spurt from Valpo gave it a slight lead just past the midway point of the set.
- But after the teams traded points, the Chippewas scored four of the next five to take control at 20-16. Valpo would close to within 22-21 late on consecutive kills from Bronner, but the two sides traded side-outs the rest of the way as CMU took the opener.
- How would Valpo respond to its first dropped set of the tournament? With an emphatic .556 hitting percentage in set two, putting down 16 kills on only 27 swings with just one error. The Brown and Gold scored the set’s first four points and nine of the first 11 en route to evening the match.
- It would be tough to replicate that kind of hitting percentage for a second straight set, but Valpo almost managed to do so, tallying 17 kills on 30 swings with two errors in the third set for a .500 hitting percentage. CMU scored the first point of the set before Valpo took eight of the next nine to take control.
- While the hitting percentage cooled down in the final set, Valpo again jumped out to a big early lead, throwing together seven straight points on the serve of senior Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) to go ahead 10-3. CMU closed to within 13-8, but another 5-0 spurt from Valpo shut the door on the Chippewas.
Inside the Match
- Valpo hit at a .396 clip for the match, finishing with 64 kills and just 11 hitting errors on 134 total attacks. The .396 hitting percentage is the best mark for a four-set match by a Valpo squad in the rally-scoring era, and second-best overall in program history (.500, at Dayton, Nov. 15, 1985).
- It also marked Valpo’s best hitting percentage in any length match since the Brown and Gold hit .419 in a sweep of Chicago State in September of 2015.
- Individually, Bronner cracked Valpo’s record book as well, as her .600 hitting percentage (10 kills; 1 error; 15 attacks) is third-best by an individual in a four-set match in program history.
- By bringing home the title from Mount Pleasant, Valpo has now won 25 in-season tournament titles in Carin Avery’s tenure as head coach. Valpo has captured three of its last four in-season tournament crowns dating back to last season (Cornell, Western Illinois).
- Valpo has won six matches in a row since dropping its season opener, the program’s longest winning streak since opening the 2015 campaign with nine straight wins.
- All three Valpo players who finished in double figures in kills also hit at least .500, as Bronner was joined by a pair of career-best performances. Zaleski set a new career high with 16 kills while hitting at a .560 clip, while sophomore Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) tied her career best with 17 kills and hit .500.
- Carlson just missed a double-double with nine kills and 11 digs, and also recorded three of Valpo’s five service aces.
- Sophomore Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) enjoyed perhaps her finest match as Valpo’s setter since joining the program, leading it to the .396 hitting percentage as she dished out 53 assists. The sophomore also tallied three kills on just four attacks and added seven digs and four blocks as well.
- Sophomore Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) was up to her usual tricks in the back row, racking up a match-high 25 digs. Valpo limited CMU to .028 hitting over the final three sets.
The All-Tournament Team
- The trio of Valpo seniors represented the program on the Chippewa Invitational All-Tournament Team following the perfect 3-0 mark for the weekend.
- Zaleski earned her first career Tournament MVP accolade and her second All-Tournament Team honor after averaging 3.00 kills/set on .388 hitting over the three matches.
- Bronner picked up her third career All-Tournament Team selection as she hit .488 with 2.50 kills/set and tallied 1.10 blocks/set defensively as well. In fact, each of Bronner’s three All-Tournament Team nods have come in the last three tournaments Valpo has won.
- Ketcham added a fifth All-Tournament Team award to her resume, but her first since the 2015 campaign. The fifth-year senior, who surpassed 1,500 career digs on Friday, averaged 3.00 digs/set and 2.40 kills/set in the three victories.
Thoughts From Coach Avery
“We played a great weekend of volleyball, and I’m so proud of this group. Every person is playing high-IQ volleyball right now, and it’s showing up in the win column. The senior class is doing a great job right now, both leading this team and playing excellent volleyball, and I’m so happy for all of them.”
Valpo (6-1) takes a step away from tournament play on Tuesday night to travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. to face nationally-ranked Michigan in a non-conference matchup at 6 p.m. CT.