For a squad which had played and won a number of dramatic five-set matches in the first three weekends, the Valpo volleyball team switched gears on Friday at the SIUE Cougar Classic. It took the Beacons the minimum six sets to finish up sweeps of Western Illinois (25-11, 25-19, 25-18) and host SIUE (25-13, 25-21, 25-17) and to claim their second tournament title of the season.
How It Happened – WIU
- Valpo scored the first five points of the opening set on the serve of freshman Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) and never looked back from there, pulling away to a double-figure lead at 14-4 and cruising to the win. The Beacons hit .361 in the first set and held WIU to -.121 hitting.
- The Leathernecks were on the front foot to start the second frame, scoring six of the first nine points. WIU maintained that lead through the first half of the set, passing the halfway mark with a 13-9 advantage.
- A big Valpo run flipped the script of the set, however. Five different Beacons tallied kills during a 9-1 spurt which turned a four-point deficit into a four-point lead at 18-14. WIU scored the next two to close within two, but Valpo came back with five of the next six to gain a comfortable cushion en route to going up 2-0 in the match.
- Long runs each way were the story of the third set. Trailing early on 4-2, the Leathernecks rattled off a 7-1 run to pull ahead by four points at 9-5.
- Valpo came right back with four in a row to quickly even up the frame, and that four-point spurt opened up a larger 15-3 run — including three kills each from junior Kara Cooper (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) and sophomore Mallory Januski (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) — which rocketed the Beacons to a 20-12 advantage.
- The result was academic from there, with kills from junior Gretchen Kuckkan (Lafayette, Ind./Central Catholic [Indiana State]) accounting for Valpo’s final two points of the sweep.
How It Happened – SIUE
- It was again a combination of strong offense and defense in the opening set against the Cougars which led to a large margin of victory. Valpo hit .333 with 17 kills in the first frame and limited SIUE to six kills on .038 hitting. The Beacons’ lead reached double figures at 15-5 as they easily claimed the first.
- SIUE started the second set strong, going ahead 6-2 early on. The Cougars’ lead was still three points at 11-8.
- An SIUE service error returned the serve to Valpo, which in turn jump-started a big run. Valpo scored 11 of the next 13 points, turning the three-point deficit into a six-point lead at 19-13.
- SIUE rallied late in the set, cutting the Beacons’ edge to two points at both 22-20 and 23-21, but both times Valpo answered with kills to keep the Cougars at bay and go up 2-0 in the match.
- The third set was the most back-and-forth affair of the match as both sides battled for control nearing the halfway mark. It was a spurt of kills which gave Valpo control, as with the score tied 11-11, Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton), Kuckkan and Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) registered three kills in a row.
- The trio of kills kicked off a 10-3 stretch which culminated with a Ravotto service ace putting Valpo ahead 21-14. The Beacons eased their way to the sweep, completing it on an SIUE attack error as they hit at a robust .469 clip in the final set.
Inside the Matches
- The tournament championship was Valpo’s second of the season, as the trophy joins one previously earned at the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle Invitational.
- Valpo has now claimed 27 in-season tournament titles in head coach Carin Avery’s tenure at the helm of the program.
- This is the 11th time under Avery that Valpo has won multiple in-season tournaments in the same year.
- Friday’s pair of sweeps make this title the first earned by the program without dropping a set since the 2014 team put together three straight sweeps at UT Martin’s Skyhawk Invitational.
- It was a total team effort to claim Friday’s two sweeps, as only one Valpo player reached double figures in kills in either match — Ravotto hit .417 with 10 kills and no errors in the SIUE win after posting seven kills against WIU.
- Kuckkan had a pair of strong offensive efforts, hitting .467 with seven kills against the Leathernecks and following with seven more kills without an error, hitting .583 in the win over the Cougars. Kuckkan also tied for team-high honors against SIUE with three blocks.
- Junior Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) tallied nine kills in the sweep of the hosts, while McCarthy notched eight kills on .467 hitting and matched Kuckkan with three rejections.
- As a team, Valpo hit .330 with just nine attack errors against SIUE — the team’s best hitting percentage and first time with single-digit hitting errors since hitting .331 with nine errors in a sweep of Evansville on November 2, 2019.
- Offensively against WIU, Swistek led the way with eight kills and posted 16 digs as well.
- Januski set career bests against the Leathernecks with seven kills and a team-high five blocks, while Cooper totaled five kills on just 11 swings without an error.
- Defensively in the opener, junior Rachel Speck (Whitmore Lake, Mich./Whitmore Lake) chipped in on four blocks, matching her career total entering the day. As a team, Valpo recorded 11 blocks in the sweep of WIU and limited the Leathernecks to .046 hitting.
- Fifth-year libero Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) led all players in digs in both matches, picking up 17 versus WIU and 13 against SIUE. With 2,743 career digs, Cookerly enters MVC play just nine shy of Taylor Root for Valpo’s career record in the category.
- Valpo’s pair of setters both had strong days Friday as well. Fifth-year setter Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) handed out 21 assists versus WIU and 19 versus SIUE, while sophomore Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) posted matching 16-assist totals in both contests.
Valpo (9-2) opens up the MVC slate with the longest road trip of the conference schedule, heading to Southern Illinois next Friday and Missouri State next Saturday.