Valparaiso (6-6, 5-5 MVC)
Matches #13/14 - March 7/8 - 3 p.m./4 p.m.
Bradley (7-3, 7-3 MVC) - Valparaiso, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Volleyball: Coming off a thrilling conclusion to a two-match sweep at Drake, the Valpo volleyball team returns home to the ARC for six straight matches, starting with a two-match series Sunday and Monday versus Bradley. Valpo carries a three-match winning streak into this weekend’s series against a Braves squad which is currently second in the MVC standings, making it the third straight weekend Valpo will face a team in second place in the conference.
Previously: Valpo earned a two-match sweep at Drake in dramatic fashion, rallying from down two sets to one, holding off four Bulldog match points in set four, and then overcoming an 8-3 deficit in the fifth set to earn a 3-2 victory in the finale Monday. The opener of the series saw Valpo dominate the three sets it won in a 3-1 victory. Bella Ravotto (Defensive Player of the Week) and Victoria Bulmahn (Freshman of the Week) earned weekly honors from the MVC office for their performance in the series sweep.
Looking Ahead: Valpo remains at home next weekend, hosting UNI next Sunday and Monday, March 14 and 15.
Following the Action: Sunday’s match will be broadcast live on ESPN3, while Monday’s contest will be carried live on ESPN+. WVUR is scheduled to have radio broadcasts of both matches as well. Links for the live video and audio, as well as live stats, will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 19th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 418 matches (418-204, .672) at the helm of the Brown and Gold 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 61 All-League recipients over her tenure at Valpo. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns a 473-228 (.675) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Valpo holds slim edges in the all-time series with Bradley both overall (11-10) and since joining the MVC (4-3) thanks to taking two of three meetings last year. The two squads split in the regular season before the Brown and Gold eked out a five-set win in the opener at the MVC Tournament. Rylee Cookerly averaged 6.82 digs/set over last season’s three meetings.
Scouting the Opposition: Bradley enters the weekend at 7-3 in MVC play to sit in second place in the conference standings. The Braves are a perfect 5-0 at home, but are just 2-3 away from Peoria. Hannah Thompson is averaging a team-best 3.78 kills/set and also leads the way with 5.28 digs/set as BU is the nation’s only team averaging more digs/set than Valpo, posting 21.69 digs/set.
Valpo Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll: Entering its fourth season of Missouri Valley Conference play, Valpo has been selected to finish in seventh place in the conference in the spring of 2021, acording to preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. Valpo tallied 39 points in the polling, while UNI and Illinois State earned the top two spots, with the Panthers edging the Redbirds both in first-place votes (6-4) and total points (96-93). Notably, Valpo has outperformed its preseason poll rank in each of its first three seasons in the MVC.
Looking Back at 2019: Valpo finished the 2019 campaign with a 14-20 overall record and posted an 8-10 mark in MVC play to finish the regular season in fifth place in the conference standings, outperforming its preseason poll rank for a third straight year. The Brown and Gold advanced to the MVC semifinals for the second consecutive season. Rylee Cookerly was tabbed the MVC Libero of the Year and an AVCA Honorable Mention All-Region honoree and was joined by Peyton McCarthy as a First Team All-MVC member - giving Valpo multiple First Team All-MVC choices for the first time as an MVC program.
What’s Back and What’s New: Valpo returns 14 of 18 letterwinners and all of its starters from last year’s squad, a group which encompasses the vast majority of last year’s production - 100% of the blocks, 99.8% of the kills, 91% of the digs and 86.9% of the service aces. Included among the 14 returnees are five players who played all 127 sets in 2019: Brittany Anderson, Jaclyn Bulmahn, Rylee Cookerly, Jillie Grant and Peyton McCarthy. Joining the 14 returnees are a pair of freshmen: setter Victoria Bulmahn and middle Mallory Januski.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play in 2019, finishing the year ranked ninth nationally in total digs and 26th in digs/set. The Brown and Gold have ranked among the top-30 nationally in digs/set in each of the last 10 seasons, including leading the nation with 20.03 digs/set in 2017 to go along with a fourth-place rank in 2010 and a sixth-place finish in 2015. 2018 saw Valpo lead the nation in a digs category as well, as it posted 2,613 total digs - a mark which not only ranked first nationally for total digs, but also set a program single-season record and a Division I record in the 25-point era. Valpo currently sits second nationally with 20.70 digs/set, trailing only Bradley.
What A Comeback It Was: Valpo volleyball fans hadn’t seen the type of comeback that the Brown and Gold put forth Monday in quite some time. Valpo held off four Drake match points in the fourth set before eventually earning the win, the first time since September 2010 versus EKU it had won a match where it stared down four match points. In fact, the last time Valpo won a match where it was on the wrong end of even just one match point opportunity came in October 2013. Impressively, considering the match featured numerous long rallies, 465 total attacks and 247 total digs, Valpo extended the match on the four Drake match point chances facing just one total attack - Valpo got first ball kills on two points, a second ball kill following a block back on one point, and a solo block on the lone Drake attack.
A Record-Setting Performance: The story of the Monday win was the Valpo back-row defense. The 134 digs Valpo totaled on Monday set a program record for not just the 25-point era but any rally-scoring match, besting the mark of 129 set against Wright State in October 2016. The 134-dig mark is also fourth-most across all eras in program history and is the most in a single match since September 1994. No NCAA D-I team has bettered 134 digs in a single match since Missouri State did so at Drake in October 2017.
Stringing Together Wins: With its sweep at Drake last weekend, Valpo has now won three straight matches. The three-match winning streak - all of which have come on the road - is the program’s second-longest conference winning streak since joining the MVC, only bested by the four straight wins the Brown and Gold claimed to open the 2018 conference slate.
Staying Home: After a five-match stretch away from home, Valpo will play six consecutive home matches over the next three weekends. The last time Valpo played six straight matches at the ARC came back in October 2008 - five of which were within Horizon League play. Valpo won the final five of those six matches to kick off a 13-match winning streak.
Closing Series Strong: Valpo has a 1-4 record so far this year in the first match of MVC series, the only win coming last weekend at Drake. But the Brown and Gold have flipped three of those results in the series finale, as they are 4-1 in the second of two matchups. Even in its one loss in the second matchup, Valpo pushed its finale against Missouri State to five sets after losing 3-1 in the first match.
Dominant Close to the Match: Never before in the rally scoring era had Valpo delivered as crushing a fifth-set victory as it did in last Monday’s win over Illinois State. Valpo finished the match with a 15-2 win in set five to earn its first win over the Redbirds since joining the MVC. The defense got the job done in the final frame, as ISU hit -.438 and committed eight attack errors - four of which were Valpo blocks. Valpo previously owned two fifth-set wins in the rally scoring era by 15-3 finals.
Ravotto Steps Up: Asked to fill in at libero last weekend, sophomore Bella Ravotto did so with aplomb and received MVC Defensive Player of the Week accolades for her efforts. Sunday saw Ravotto notch 18 digs in a four-set win before she exploded for a match-high 38 digs in Monday’s five-set win over Drake. The 38 digs shattered her previous career high of 23 and are tied for fourth-most by a Valpo player in a single match in the 25-point era. 21 of her 38 digs came in the final two sets as Valpo rallied from a 2-1 deficit to close the series sweep, including 15 in the fourth set - tying the most by a Valpo player in a single set since Rylee Cookerly notched 19 digs in the third set at Notre Dame in August 2017. Ravotto also tallied nine assists in the Monday victory, easily a career best in that category as well. For the series, Ravotto averaged 6.22 digs/set and did not commit a serve reception error.
Swinging Away: After posting 12 kills and a career-best 25 digs in Sunday’s win over the Bulldogs, junior Jillie Grant exploded for a tremendous offensive performance in the come-from-behind win on Monday. Grant shattered her career best by tallying 26 kills on 71 swings. The 26 kills are tied for the most by a Valpo player in a five-set match in the 25-point era, tied for second-most in any length match in the 25-point era and tied for fifth-most in any length match in the rally scoring era, while the 71 attempts are tied for third-most in any length match in the 25-point era. 11 of Grant’s kills came in the fourth set alone, tied for second-most in a single set in Coach Avery’s tenure, and three of them came on Drake match points to keep the match alive. Grant also tallied 21 digs in the Monday victory as she posted her first career 20-20 effort. For the series, Grant averaged 4.22 kills/set on .273 hitting and 5.11 digs/set.
Closing With a Bang: Junior middle Haley Hart ensured that Valpo would close out the come-from-behind win with Drake with a string of fifth-set kills to lift the Brown and Gold to the victory. Trailing 8-3, Hart reeled off six kills over the next 13 points to spur Valpo’s 10-3 run to take control. Hart’s six kils in the fifth set tied for the most by a Valpo player in a fifth set in the rally scoring era and capped a career-best 16 kills from the junior. Hart, who tallied 11 kills on .333 hitting in Sunday’s win as well, has now reached double figures in kills nine times this season.
More Honors for Bulmahn: Freshman setter Victoria Bulmahn was named MVC Freshman of the Week for the second time this year following her performances in the pair of wins at Drake. In Sunday’s four-set victory, Bulmahn handed out 50 assists as Valpo hit at a .247 clip for the match, set a career high with 21 digs and added three blocks and two service aces. Then on Monday, Bulmahn registered 57 assists and shattered her career best with 26 digs while adding five kills as well. For the series, Bulmahn averaged 11.89 assists and 5.22 digs per set. She currently leads the MVC with 10.77 assists/set, a mark which ranks 29th nationally.
An Especially Stellar Stretch: Every time it seems like there’s not much room for senior libero Rylee Cookerly to improve her game, she manages to raise it another level, and that is what she’s done recently. After coming into the season having reached 30+ digs in a match just five times over her first three years, Cookerly has now hit the 30-dig mark four times in her last five matches. Her recent play has pushed her digs/set average to 6.11 - a mark which easily outpaces her career best, leads the MVC and currently ranks sixth nationally. She has twice been named MVC Defensive Player of the Week this year.
Moving Up the Charts: Cookerly has soared up multiple career digs charts with her play this year. She currently sits second in Valpo history and fifth in MVC history with 2,361 career digs, having jumped two spots on the Valpo chart and three spots on the MVC chart over her last five matches. She enters the Bradley series just 62 digs shy of fourth on the MVC chart, and is also just 69 digs away from cracking the NCAA’s top-25 chart for Division I.