It was a tale of two completely opposite paths in Valpo volleyball’s two matches on Friday at the Golden Eagle Invitational in Cookeville, Tenn., but in the end, the result was the same — a win. The Beacons took down UNC Asheville, 3-0 (25-23, 25-9, 25-21) in their tournament opener and then won a five-set battle with host Tennessee Tech, 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 18-16) to cap the day. Along the way, Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) moved into the top-10 in NCAA history in career digs and Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) posted the second-best hitting percentage in a five-set match in program history.
How It Happened – UNC Asheville
- Valpo found itself down 22-19 to the Bulldogs late in the opening set, but closed the frame on a 6-1 run — including two blocks and a kill from McCarthy — to rally to claim the set.
- The second set needed no such rally, as the Beacons ran out to a 9-2 lead and were never threatened as they hit .406 for the set to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
- The third frame was the most tightly contested through the early stages, as it ended up featuring seven ties and four lead changes. The key spurt came just past the halfway point, as Valpo reeled off four straight points — including a kill by junior Gretchen Kuckkan (Lafayette, Ind./Central Catholic [Indiana State]) and a solo block from McCarthy — to pull ahead, 19-14.
- UNC Asheville closed back to within two points twice down the stretch of the third set, but got no closer, and a service error eventually closed out the sweep for Valpo.
How It Happened – Tennessee Tech
- In opposite fashion from their first match of the day, the Beacons led late in set one over host TTU, 21-18. But the Golden Eagles scored seven of the final nine points of the set to rally to go ahead 1-0.
- Senior Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) had three kills and McCarthy two of her own as part of a 7-2 run as Valpo pushed its advantage to 16-11 in the second set.
- It looked like Valpo had the set in hand, earning set point at 24-19. But the Beacons would need every opportunity, as TTU scored the next four points before junior Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) came through with a kill to tie the match.
- Valpo trailed 22-17 late in the third set before scoring five straight to even things up at 22 apiece. The rally halted there, however, as the Golden Eagles scored three of the final four points of the frame to retake the lead in the match.
- The Beacons took control of the fourth set from the onset, opening the frame on a 6-1 run to take control as they never trailed in forcing a decisive fifth set.
- The fifth set was easily the tightest of the match, featuring 11 ties and five lead changes in a frame which was only scheduled to go to 15 points.
- Valpo held a pair of two-point leads early in the set, while TTU was up two points at 10-8 and 11-9. The Beacons scored two straight after the latter to even the set at 11-11 and set the stage for a dramatic finish.
- Valpo earned the first match point chance at 14-13 as McCarthy combined with junior Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) on a block, but TTU forced extra points with a kill. Another McCarthy termination made it 15-14 Valpo, but was answered by another kill by the Golden Eagles.
- TTU earned match point at 16-15 following a Valpo attack error before senior Jillie Grant (Maumee, Ohio/Anthony Wayne) came through with a kill to extend the match. Hart then combined with junior Kara Cooper (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) to give Valpo its third chance to finish the match, and this time, a kill from Grant concluded the action and closed Valpo’s day with a 2-0 record.
Inside the Matches
- Cookerly once again continued her ascent up the NCAA’s all-time chart in career digs on Friday. Entering the weekend just 28 digs shy of the top-10, Cookerly moved into 12th in the UNC Asheville sweep as she tallied 12 digs and then leapfrogged two more spots into the top-10 in the nightcap, reaching that spot in the fourth set of the Tennessee Tech victory.
- Posting a match-high 25 digs in the win over the Golden Eagles, Cookerly finished the day with 2,615 career digs, 41 shy of ninth position in NCAA history. The next big milestone ahead for Cookerly will come at 2,752 digs, which is the mark set by Taylor Root which currently sits as Valpo’s career record and the doorway to the top-five in NCAA history in the category.
- McCarthy was simply dominant on both sides of the ball Friday, but especially so offensively. She started the day with a team-high eight kills on .667 hitting and a match-high four blocks in the sweep of UNC Asheville.
- McCarthy followed Friday night with a tremendous performance, hitting .607 with a team-high 18 kills in the win over Tennessee Tech as she committed just one attack error and tied for team-high honors with four blocks. Her .607 hitting percentage is the second-best mark in program history in a five-set match and is the best in a five-setter in the 25-point era.
- Another Beacon will enter Saturday on the precipice of a move up Valpo’s all-time charts. Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) dished out 20 assists in the sweep of UNC Asheville and 28 more in the win over Tennessee Tech, giving her 3,955 career assists — one shy of Kelsey Berrington for third in program history.
- Valpo spread out its offense in the win over UNC Asheville, as three other players tallied six kills apiece to back up McCarthy’s team-high eight. Sophomore Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) dished out 14 assists in that win and led the Beacons with 13 digs, and followed with 24 assists in the win over TTU.
- Meanwhile, the defense limited UNCA to -.027 hitting in the sweep.
- After nobody tallied more than eight kills in the early afternoon victory, four Beacons reached double figures in the category in the win over the Golden Eagles. Ravotto and Grant each posted double-doubles — Ravotto with 13 kills and 12 digs, Grant with 11 kills and 20 digs — while Hart tallied 13 kills to go with her four blocks.
Valpo (4-1) will take aim at a tournament title Saturday morning, with South Alabama the only thing standing in between the Beacons and the hardware. First serve is slated for 10:30 a.m., and the match can be seen live on ESPN+.