The Valpo volleyball team opened the 2021 season in dramatic fashion Saturday at the Panther Invitational in Milwaukee, Wis., dropping the first two sets of its opener to UC Santa Barbara before rallying for a 3-2 (23-25, 14-25, 25-15, 25-20, 15-10) victory over the Gauchos. In their second match of the day, the Beacons battled Big Ten foe Illinois, falling 3-0 (25-20, 25-16, 25-20).
How It Happened – UCSB
- Valpo led comfortably past the halfway mark of the opening set and held a seven-point lead at 16-9 before UCSB roared back with seven straight points to tie things up.
- After the teams traded sideouts, Valpo reeled off four straight to seemingly take control at 21-17, but the Gauchos scored eight of the final 10 points of the set to claim the opener.
- UCSB led from the onset of set two to go ahead two sets to none.
- After hitting a negative percentage offensively over the first two sets, the Beacons’ offense turned things around to capture the next two frames, combining to hit .286 over the next two sets.
- It was all Valpo from the start of set three, as it came out with eight straight points to open — the final three of which came on three kills in a row from junior Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian). UCSB closed to within three points at 10-7 before Valpo put up a 10-1 run to distance itself from the Gauchos.
- UCSB was out to a 10-7 lead in the fourth set, but the Beacons quickly turned the tables with a six-point spurt — including three kills from senior Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) — to make it a three-point lead of their own.
- The Gauchos clawed back to tie the set at 17 apiece, but Valpo responded with five of the next six points for a comfortable advantage as it forced the decisive fifth set.
- The Beacons never trailed in the fifth frame, but it was close through the first half before what proved to be a key four-point stretch which pushed a 6-5 lead to 10-5. Ravotto and fellow junior Rachel Speck (Whitmore Lake, Mich./Whitmore Lake) each had kills during that key push.
- Valpo’s lead didn’t drop under three points the rest of the way, and a Gaucho attack error ended the match in Valpo’s favor on its first match point attempt.
How It Happened – Illinois
- Illinois led nearly start to finish in the first set. After trailing by as many as eight points during the frame, Valpo cut the deficit to three points on multiple occasions down the stretch, but the Illini were able to keep Valpo at bay.
- The Beacons held a 14-13 advantage just past the halfway mark of the second set in an attempt to even the match, but Illinois scored 12 of the set’s final 14 points to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
- Valpo held the lead through the early stages of set three before Illinois claimed it for good with a four-point spurt nearing the midway point of the frame. The Beacons closed to within two points three different times late, but were able to get no closer as the Fighting Illini finished out their win.
Inside the Matches
- The win over UCSB came over a program which went 23-6 and won a match in the NCAA Tournament in its last season of competition (did not compete in spring 2021).
- It was the 12th time in the tenure of head coach Carin Avery that Valpo has come all the way back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 victory. The opposite — leading 2-0 and eventually falling 3-2 — has happened just eight times during Avery’s time at Valpo, despite the fact Valpo has enjoyed a 2-0 lead nearly three times as many times as it has trailed 2-0.
- There’s just something about season openers for Ravotto. The junior set a career best with her match-high 18 kills in the win over the Gauchos and added 12 digs as well.
- Ravotto has now led Valpo in kills in the season opener in each of her three seasons on campus. In addition, she has five career double-doubles — three of which have come in the three season-opening matches.
- Fifth-year libero Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) picked up right where she left off five months ago in the back row. Cookerly registered 33 digs in the UCSB win, her ninth career match with 30 or more digs, and jumped three spots to 13th position on the NCAA career digs chart.
- Cookerly added a team-best 10 digs as well versus Illinois and enters Sunday with 2,557 career digs — 26 shy of 12th place in NCAA history.
- Fifth-year middle Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) notched nine kills on .389 hitting in the win over UCSB.
- Fifth-year setter Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) narrowly missed a double-double in her return to action after playing softball this past spring, posting a team-high 20 assists and nine digs against the Gauchos.
- Sophomore Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) nearly finished the day with two double-doubles as well, recording 18 assists and nine digs in the win over UCSB and 14 assists and nine digs versus Illinois.
- Hart led Valpo defensively at the net in both matches, finishing with five blocks against UCSB and four rejections against Illinois.
- Senior Jillie Grant (Maumee, Ohio/Anthony Wayne) tallied 13 digs in the season-opening win and then led Valpo with 10 kills against the Fighting Illini.
- Entering the day with just two kills in her first two seasons on campus, Speck racked up three kills on just five swings in the win over UCSB.
- Junior transfer Gretchen Kuckkan (Lafayette, Ind./Central Catholic [Indiana State]) and freshman Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) both made their Valpo debuts on Saturday.
Valpo (1-1) looks to make the first weekend of action a winning one on Sunday afternoon, closing its first tournament of the year against host Milwaukee at noon. A live audio broadcast and live stats will be available via ValpoAthletics.com.