Valparaiso (10-8, 9-7 MVC)
Matches #19/20 - March 27/28 - 6 p.m./4 p.m.
at Evansville (5-13, 4-12 MVC) - Evansville, Ind.
This Week in Valpo Volleyball: The Valpo volleyball team brings the regular season to a close this weekend as it travels downstate for its two-match series at Evansville Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Seedings for next week’s MVC Tournament is still up for grabs, as Valpo could enter the tournament as anywhere from the third seed through the seventh seed.
Previously: Valpo won for the seventh time in the last eight matches with a sweep of the opener against Indiana State last Sunday, but dropped a 3-1 decision to the visiting Sycamores Monday in its home finale.
Looking Ahead: The MVC Tournament opens on Thursday, April 1 at Illinois State.
Following the Action: Both matches this weekend are scheduled to be broadcasted live on ESPN+. Links for the live video, 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 422 matches (422-206, .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 477-230 (.675) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Evansville holds a slight 11-10 edge in the all-time series over Valpo, but it is the Brown and Gold who have dominated recently. Under Coach Avery, Valpo owns an 8-1 record against the Purple Aces, including wins in five of six meetings as MVC opponents. Last season, Evansville pulled out a five-set victory at home before Valpo returned the favor with a three-set sweep at the ARC.
Scouting the Opposition: Evansville enters the final weekend of the regular season at 5-13 overall and 4-12 in MVC play. The Purple Aces have already been eliminated from contention for a berth in the MVC Tournament. Evansville features primarily two attackers, as Alondra Vazquez ranks second in the MVC with 4.38 kills/set and Melanie Feliciano ranks fourth with 3.84 kills/set. Vazquez also posts a team-high 3.66 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 fourth nationally this year with 20.63 digs/set.
Looking For Their Best Finish: Valpo enters the final weekend of the regular season at 9-7 in MVC play. With two wins at Evansville, the Brown and Gold would conclude the conference slate with an 11-7 record, which would match the 2018 team for the program’s best MVC record since joining the conference. Additionally, Valpo can still finish as high as third in the standings, which would better the 2018 squad’s fourth-place regular season finish.
A Program First: Valpo earned its first-ever wins over UNI in the weekend sweep, as the Panthers had owned a 14-0 record in the all-time series, which included a 1995 NCAA Tournament play-in match and eight meetings in Valpo’s first three years in the MVC. Monday’s win was especially notable, as it was the first three-set win by an MVC program over UNI in regular season conference play since November 2017. Valpo also beat Illinois State earlier this year for its first MVC win over the Redbirds, meaning that the Brown and Gold have now beaten every Valley team at least once since joining the conference.
Going the Distance: Valpo’s opener with UNI went the full five sets, as Valpo took the first two sets before the Panthers claimed sets three and four. Valpo eventually pulled out the win in five sets. Valpo has now gone five sets in seven of its 18 atches this year - after losing the first four five-set contests of the year, the Brown and Gold have won each of the last three that have gone the distance.
Finishing in Three: It had been over a month since Valpo had a match end in the minimum three sets before the Brown and Gold swept Bradley in the opener of the two-match series March 7. Valpo has won in straight sets in three of its last six matches, as the second match against UNI and the first match versus Indiana State required just the minimum three sets. Having had only three three-set matches so far through 16 MVC matches this year is a complete 180 from the norm, as in its first three years in the conference, 28 of Valpo’s 54 MVC contests were decided in three sets (18-10). This year’s team is currently 4-0 overall in three-set matches, trying to become the first team in program history to not lose a single match in three sets.
What A Comeback It Was: Valpo volleyball fans hadn’t seen the type of comeback that the Brown and Gold put forth in the finale at Drake 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 previous to Drake came in October 2013.
A Record-Setting Performance: The story of the Monday win at Drake was the Valpo back-row defense. The 134 digs Valpo totaled 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.
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 the Monday win at 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.
A Huge Weekend: A record-setting performance was part of a stellar pair of back-to-back matches for senior outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn last weekend against Indiana State in the final two home matches of her career. In Sunday’s three-set sweep of the Sycamores, Bulmahn exploded for 20 kills on a career-high .543 hitting percentage while adding a team-best four blocks as well. The 20 kills ties the Valpo record for kills in a three-set match in the 25-point era and shares top honors in the MVC for kills in a three-set match this year. Bulmahn followed on Monday with a match-best 19 kills on .432 hitting. Over the two matches, Bulmahn hit at a .486 clip and averaged 5.57 kills/set. Bulmahn currently ranks eighth in the MVC with a .267 hitting percentage in 10th with 3.04 kills/set.
Cookerly Continues to Dig: Senior libero Rylee Cookerly averaged a team-high 5.29 digs/set and did not commit a service reception error as Valpo split its final home series with Indiana State. Cookerly recorded 16 digs in Valpo’s three-set sweep of the Sycamores on Sunday and then tallied 21 digs on Monday. Cookerly now owns 2,476 career digs, good for 18th in NCAA history and just six away from moving into third in MVC history in the category. Currently 12th in the nation this year with 5.82 digs/set, Cookerly is poised to potentially finish the regular season in the top-15 in NCAA history in the category.
Bulmahn Sets Things Up: Freshman Victoria Bulmahn picked up her third Freshman of the Week honor from the MVC this week after her pair of performances in the split with Indiana State. Bulmahn opened the weekend series by leading the Valpo offense to a .308 hitting percentage in its Sunday sweep of the Sycamores, the team’s best hitting percentage of the year. She doled out 32 assists and added eight digs and three kills as well. On Monday, Bulmahn posted an eye-popping 28 digs on the defensive side of the ball, leading all players for the first time in her career in the category and setting a new career high. The rookie also dished out 46 assists — recording her 13th double-double of the season — and posted a pair of service aces as well. For the weekend, Bulmahn averaged 11.14 assists and 5.14 digs per set in the split. Her 10.86 assists/set on the season lead the Valley, rank 22nd nationally and are second-most in the nation by a freshman setter.