The Valpo volleyball team, buoyed by tremendous fan turnout and support Friday evening at the ARC, swept three closely-contested sets from UConn (28-26, 27-25, 26-24) in the semifinals of the 2021 NIVC to advance to the tournament championship match. Valpo will host UNLV for the crown on Sunday night at 7 p.m. at the ARC.
How It Happened
- All three sets featured at least nine tie scores, as all three went right down to and beyond the 25-point wire.
- UConn led by as many as five points in the first set, hitting the halfway mark up 13-8. An 8-1 Valpo run, featuring two kills apiece by Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) and Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) turned the deficit into a two-point lead.
- Three straight points by the Huskies returned the lead to them, but a four-point spurt later in the frame from Valpo — including two Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) — gave the Beacons a 22-19 lead.
- UConn rallied to tie the frame at 23-all before a kill by Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) made it set point Valpo at 24-23.
- Valpo had three set point chances at 24-23, 25-24 and 26-25, but all three times UConn sided out to even the frame. Finally, with a fourth opportunity at 27-26, Hart came through with another kill to send the crowd into a frenzy as Valpo claimed the opening set.
- The second set was a set of runs, with the Beacons putting together the first spurt. Three service aces — one from Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) and two by Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) — sent Valpo out to a quick 10-4 advantage.
- Just as quickly, the Huskies returned the favor, scoring six in a row as part of a larger 10-1 run to claim a 14-11 lead.
- The teams traded sideouts before Valpo put together a four-point spurt, which included a kill and a solo block for Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton), to edge back ahead, 16-15.
- Each side put together a mini-run as the battle for control continued. Valpo seemingly had the upper hand with a three-point spurt — including a kill and a block by Boyer — to go up 23-20, and after the teams traded sideouts, Valpo had three set points at 24-21.
- UConn extended the set, however, thanks to a pair of blocks and a Valpo error. Another kill by Boyer gave the Beacons another opportunity, but the Huskies answered with a kill of their own to make it 25-all. A fifth chance was in the cards following a McCarthy kill, and this time Valpo finished, as McCarthy combined with Kara Cooper (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) on a block to make it a 2-0 lead in the match.
- UConn seemingly had the edge in the first half of the third set, but every time the Huskies extended their lead to three points, Valpo responded to keep the deficit from getting out of hand.
- The Beacons took their first outright lead of the third set at 16-15, as a kill from McCarthy capped a three-point mini-spurt.
- With the score 20-20, Valpo strung together three points in a row — two of which came on kills by Boyer and McCarthy — to go ahead 23-20. UConn picked up a kill on the next point, but a kill by McCarthy moved the Beacons to within one point of closing out the sweep.
- Just as in the second set, however, UConn held off three Valpo match points, as a Beacon error and a block and a kill from the Huskies made it 24-24.
- Valpo went back to its fifth-year middle once more and McCarthy converted with yet another kill for a fourth match point opportunity at 25-24. This time, the fourth chance was the charm, as Bulmahn converted a setter dump to finish out the sweep and set off a memorable celebration, complete with a court storming from a packed student section.
Inside the Match
- Valpo will play for a national championship for just the second time in the history of Valpo Athletics. The 2015-16 men’s basketball team advanced to the championship game of the NIT. That year’s men’s basketball team is also the only other team in Valpo Athletics history to win four postseason contests in one season.
- Valpo is looking to be the first non-Power Five team to win the NIVC since Cal State Northridge won the title in 1994.
- Friday’s victory came in front of a tremendous crowd of 1,267 fans at the ARC, the highest-attended match in Valpo Volleyball history.
- All four of Valpo’s NIVC wins have come via the sweep, the program’s first stretch of four consecutive sweeps since September 2018.
- Valpo improved to 12-1 at home this season, the program’s second-best home record in the 20-year tenure of head coach Carin Avery, trailing only the 13-0 mark by the 2005 squad.
- This is the eighth time in program history that Valpo has won 26 or more matches in a season, seven of which have occurred in Avery’s tenure.
- As has been the case recently, the balance of the Valpo attack was noteworthy, as Anderson and Bulmahn distributed the volleyball to the Beacons’ six attackers, all of whom tallied between 21 and 29 attacks.
- Leading the way on the finishing end offensively were Boyer and McCarthy, who picked up 12 kills apiece to tie for team-high honors. Boyer did so on a team-best .360 hitting clip.
- McCarthy’s 12 kills moved her past Lauren Moulton into eighth place in program history in career kills, with 1,206 as of the end of play Friday.
- Cooper added nine kills as well and was part of a team-best four blocks.
- Anderson dished out 18 assists and Bulmahn handed out 17. The setter duo also combined for five service aces, as Valpo posted six aces against just four service errors, versus one ace and eight errors by UConn.
- The advantage in the service game more than offset a 64-point advantage for the Huskies in hitting percentage (.243-.179).
- Valpo’s outside hitters did tremendous work keeping points alive defensively on Friday, as Swistek tallied a match-best 19 digs and Ravotto contributed 18 digs.
- Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) added 14 digs and now has 3,165 career digs, just 11 away from tying and 12 away from breaking the NCAA career record in the category.
Valpo (26-9) will go for the NIVC title on Sunday night at the ARC against UNLV. First serve is slated for 7 p.m., and the match can be seen live on ESPN+ and heard live on WVUR (95.1 FM, Valparaiso). Links for all the live coverage are available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Tickets are on sale now for Sunday’s championship match by visiting ValpoAthletics.com/tickets, calling 219-464-5233 or walking up to the Valpo Ticket Office in the ARC.