Valparaiso (18-7, 9-5 MVC)
Friday, Nov. 12 - Illinois State (15-12, 11-4 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 13 - Bradley (15-11, 11-4 MVC) - 6 p.m.
This Week in Valpo Volleyball: With just two weekends of regular season play remaining, every match is critical for the Valpo volleyball team - especially this weekend’s contests, as the two teams immediately ahead of the Beacons in the MVC standings come to town in the form of Illinois State and Bradley. Valpo will hold its annual Senior Night ceremony following Saturday’s match, honoring the five team members who will have played on the ARC floor for the final time.
Previously: Valpo had just one match last weekend, but it was a big one, as the Beacons swept conference-leading Loyola at the ARC behind 10 kills on .389 hitting from Haley Hart. It was just the fourth time in the last 20 years that Valpo has swept the league leader within conference play.
Looking Ahead: Valpo closes out the regular season next weekend with the Iowa road swing, taking on UNI on the 19th and Drake on the 20th.
Following the Beacons: Friday’s match against the Redbirds can be seen live on ESPN+, while Saturday’s match will be carried on ESPN3. Links for the live video, as well as live stats for all matches, are available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 20th season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 441 matches (441-214, .673) at the helm of the program 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 55 All-League recipients over her tenure at Valpo. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns a 496-238 (.676) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Illinois State - Valpo is just 3-11 in program history against Illinois State and just 1-9 against the Redbirds since joining the MVC. Last month, Illinois State earned a five-set win over Valpo in Normal despite 14 kills and seven blocks from Haley Hart.
Bradley - The Beacons and the Braves are 12-12 all-time against each other and have split 10 matches since Valpo joined the Valley. In the first matchup of the season in Peoria, the Braves emerged victorious in four sets, with Maddy Boyer leading the Valpo effort with 11 kills on .304 hitting.
Scouting the Opposition: Illinois State - The Redbirds enter Friday night’s match at 15-12 overall and tied with Bradley for second place in the MVC standings at 11-4 in conference play. Junior libero Kaity Weimerskirch ranks second in the conference with 4.76 digs/set, while sophomore outside hitter Tamara Otene leads all Valley players with 403 total kills.
Bradley - The Braves are 15-11 overall and 11-4 in Valley play to sit tied with Illinois State. Bradley enters the weekend on a six-match winning streak, with a contest at Loyola before Saturday night’s trip to the ARC. Junior middle Raeann Bergman sits fourth in the Valley with 1.09 blocks/set, while junior middle Karagan Coggin is hitting .320 this season, good for third in the conference.
Valpo Picked Seventh in Preseason Poll: For the fourth time in five seasons as an MVC member, Valpo has been picked to finish in seventh place in the conference standings in preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. Illinois State topped the poll with 79 points and three first-place votes, narrowly edging out Drake, which tallied 77 points, including three first-place votes. Valpo has outperformed its ranking in the preseason poll in each of its first four seasons in the MVC and is one of two programs (Illinois State) to post top-half finishes in the MVC standings in each of the last four seasons.
Looking Back at the Spring: The spring 2021 campaign saw Valpo post an 11-9 record and finish fifth in the MVC standings with a 10-8 mark in conference action. Rylee Cookerly repeated as MVC Libero of the Year, was named the MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was an AVCA All-Region honoree, while Victoria Bulmahn was tabbed the MVC Freshman of the Year. Included among Valpo’s 11 wins were the program’s first victory over Illinois State since joining the MVC and the first wins in program history over traditional power UNI.
Who’s Back and Who’s New: The Beacons return 10 letterwinners, including four starters and the libero, from the spring 2021 campaign - a group which accounted for 75% of the team’s kills, 90% of aces, 82% of digs and 86% of blocks last season. Valpo also returns a pair of players who didn’t see action last season, while welcoming in one transfer and four freshmen.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play in the spring 2021 season, finishing the season ranked third nationally and second in the Valley with 20.37 digs/set. Valpo has 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. Since the move to 25-point scoring, only seven teams have averaged more than 20 digs/set over the course of a season, and Valpo is the only program to have done it twice. 2018 saw Valpo lead the nation with 2,613 total digs - a mark which set a program single-season record and a Division I record in the 25-point era. Valpo currently sits 32nd nationally in digs/set with an MVC-best 16.59 digs/set.
Next Up, 20 Wins: With a 18-7 record, the 2021 Valpo squad has clinched a winning record, something which has been a standard for this program. This marks the program’s 18th winning season in head coach Carin Avery’s 20 seasons at the helm. Next up is another run at the 20-win milestone, something Avery’s teams have accomplished 15 times.
Look at the RPI: Valpo came in at #50 in the NCAA’s initial release of the 2021 volleyball RPI on Oct. 4, and the Beacons have maintained a spot in the top-100 ever since. In the most recent RPI release on Nov. 8, Valpo checked in at #69.
Celebrating the Seniors: Valpo will recognize five seniors playing in their final match at the ARC following Saturday’s showdown with Bradley. A group which was instrumental in Valpo’s transition to the Missouri Valley Conference, it features three fifth-year players - Brittany Anderson, Rylee Cookerly, Peyton McCarthy - and a pair of four-year seniors - Gabby Daniels and Haley Hart. The group helped Valpo to a 27-win season and the first two postseason wins in program history in 2018, and have this year’s squad on the verge of another potential 20-win campaign.
Glance at the Standings: With just four matches remaining in the regular season, the chase for the six postseason tournament berths and tournament seeding is red hot. Valpo currently sits in fourth place in the MVC standings at 9-5, just one game back in the loss column of the tie for second between Illinois State and Bradley and just one win shy of clinching a berth in the MVC Tournament. With the top four teams in the conference standings playing each other this weekend, and teams five through eight also matching up, the potential for a big shakeup in the standings is there.
Chasing .300: Only four players in program history have posted a hitting percentage of .300 or better for a full season, and only two of those efforts have come in the rally-scoring era. But both of Valpo’s middles this year are currently on pace to better that mark. Haley Hart inched ahead of Rylee Cookerly with her performance last time out, as Hart is now hitting .308 on the season to McCarthy’s .307 clip.
Cookerly Continues to Dig: Fifth-year libero Rylee Cookerly has checked numerous milestones off her lists of things to chase this season. First, she broke Valpo’s career digs record, previously held by Taylor Root, on Sept. 24 at Southern Illinois. One week later, on Oct. 1 against Indiana State, Cookerly surpassed former Illinois State standout Courtney Pence as the MVC’s career digs record holder. Finally, the next night against Evansville, Cookerly moved past Minnesota’s Paula Gentil for second place in NCAA history in career digs. The two-time MVC Libero of the Year next has her sights on the 3,000 career dig milestone, a mark which she enters this weekend 23 digs shy of after totaling a team-high 12 digs in the sweep of Loyola. Cookerly currently ranks 40th nationally with an MVC-best 4.82 digs/set.
McCarthy Stands Out: Fifth-year middle Peyton McCarthy has had a standout season on both sides of the ball for Valpo this year. Offensively, she is swinging at a .307 clip - seventh in the MVC - with a team-high 2.66 kills/set and has improved her career hitting percentage to .253, among the top-10 in program history. Her career total of 1,109 kills ranks 12th in program history and is just 55 away from the top-10. Meanwhile, on the block, McCarthy leads Valpo and ranks 10th in the Valley with 0.97 blocks/set. Last time out, McCarthy recorded the 422nd block of her career, moving past Ellen Vanden Berg for third place in program history in the category.
Hart Racks Up the Kills: Senior middle Haley Hart entered this season having led Valpo in kills just five times over her first three seasons. This year alone, however, Hart has paced Valpo in kills seven times, most recently picking up 10 kills on .389 hitting in the Beacons’ sweep of conference leader Loyola. Hart, who ranks fifth in the MVC with a .308 hitting percentage, has especially stood out since the start of conference play, registering a team-best 3.02 kills/set on .321 hitting. She has boosted her career hitting percentage to .264, currently fourth-best in program history.
Moving On Up: Fifth-year setter Brittany Anderson tallied 21 assists last time out in the sweep of Loyola, pushing her career total to 4,386 helpers. Anderson ranks 15th in MVC history in career assists and is 12th among active D-I players in the category. She also cracked the 1,200-dig mark for her career against the Ramblers and is 17th in program history in that category.
All the Honors: Seven different Valpo players received All-Tournament Team accolades over its four early-season tournaments this season. Juniors Bella Ravotto (MVP) and Gretchen Kuckkan picked up awards for their play at the SIUE Cougar Classic. Senior Jillie Grant represented the Beacons on the All-Tournament Team at Toledo in the third weekend of action. In the second weekend of play at Tennessee Tech, fifth-year middle Peyton McCarthy was named Tournament MVP (and went on to be named MVC Player of the Week) and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by fifth-year setter Brittany Anderson and sophomore setter Victoria Bulmahn. In the opening weekend at Milwaukee, McCarthy and senior middle Haley Hart earned spots on that All-Tournament Team.