Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
at DoubleTree-Youngstown Invitational (Youngstown, Ohio)
Friday, Aug. 26 - vs. Delaware State (0-0) - 10 a.m. CT
vs. Idaho (0-0) - 4 p.m. CT
Saturday, Aug. 27 - at Youngstown State (0-0) - 1 p.m. CT
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: Coming off of one of the most successful seasons in program history, the Valpo volleyball program begins the 2022 campaign this weekend with an appearance at the DoubleTree-Youngstown Invitational. The season kicks off Friday with matches versus Delaware State and Idaho before the Beacons face former Horizon League foe Youngstown State on Saturday.
Looking Ahead: It's the return of the Popcorn Classic at the ARC next weekend, as Valpo hosts a home tournament for the first time since 2018. The Beacons will welcome SIUE, Campbell and Northern Illinois to town.
Following the Beacons: Valpo's matches against Delaware State and Idaho will be broadcast live on YSU's YouTube page, while the tournament finale against the host Penguins will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 21st season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 449 matches (449-217, .674) at the helm of the program and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles. The program has made five postseason appearances under Avery, including three NCAA Tournament appearances, and advanced to the championship match of the 2021 NIVC. A two-time league Coach of the Year, Avery has coached 58 All-League recipients over her tenure at Valpo, which has spanned three different conferences. She is Valpo’s all-time leader in both victories and winning percentage, and owns a 504-241 (.677) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Delaware State - First meeting
Idaho - Valpo and Idaho have split two meetings all-time, the more recent a 3-2 Valpo victory over the Vandals at Notre Dame's Shamrock Invitational in 2006.
YSU - Valpo owns a dominating 29-8 advantage in the all-time series against its two-time former conference mate, first in the Mid-Con and then the Horizon League. Under Coach Avery, Valpo is 19-4 against the Penguins, including a three-set sweep last season at Toledo. Gretchen Kuckkan led the Beacon offense in the win with 12 kills on .346 hitting, while Rylee Cookerly posted 30 digs in three sets.
Scouting the Opposition: Delaware State - The Hornets are picked to finish second in the MEAC this season after sharing the conference regular season title and advancing to the conference tournament championship match in 2021. Middle Alondra Maldonado, who ranked second in the MEAC in kills/set last year, is a member of the preseason All-MEAC team.
Idaho - The Vandals have been chosen ninth in the Big Sky preseason poll, coming off of a 5-20 record in 2021.
YSU - The Penguins posted a 6-23 overall record in 2021 and were 3-15 in Horizon League action.
Valpo Picked Fifth in Preseason Poll: The Beacons have been picked to finish in fifth place in the MVC standings in 2022 in preseason polling of the conference's head coaches. Valpo garnered 95 points in the polling, including one first-place vote, to rank fifth in a tight bunch in the middle of the pack. Valpo was just four points behind Bradley in fourth position, but on the other side, was just one point ahead of UNI in sixth place. Notably, Valpo has outperformed its preseason projection in each of its first five seasons in the Valley.
Illinois State received five first-place votes and totaled 134 points to lead the poll ahead of Evansville (121 points, two first-place votes). UIC (3) and UNI (1) also picked up at least one first-place nod.
Looking Back at Last Season: Valpo enjoyed one of the top seasons in program history last year, finishing the campaign with a 26-10 record. The Beacons posted a 12-6 record in MVC action to finish tied for third place in the regular season standings - the program's best record in conference play and best finish since joining the Valley. Valpo then earned a berth in the NIVC and swept each of its first four matches to advance to the tournament championship match. Haley Hart was a First Team All-MVC recipient, while Peyton McCarthy and Rylee Cookerly each earned Second Team All-MVC honors. Cookerly also became the first student-athlete in program history to be named a CoSIDA First Team Academic All-American.
Leaving a Strong Legacy: Valpo graduated five seniors from last year's squad, a group which was integral in the program's transition into the Missouri Valley Conference and made a pair of postseason appearances. The group of Brittany Anderson, Rylee Cookerly, Gabby Daniels, Haley Hart and Peyton McCarthy combined for eight All-Conference honors and led the Beacons to the championship match of the NIVC in their final season at Valpo. They enjoyed numerous individual accolades as well, highlighted by Cookerly - the two-time MVC Libero of the Year finished her collegiate career as the Valpo and the MVC career record holder in digs and ranks second in NCAA D-I history. McCarthy ranks second all-time at Valpo in blocks and eighth in kills - the only player in the top-eight in both categories - while Anderson is third in program history in career assists and Hart sixth in career hitting percentage.
Who's Back: Despite the loss of such a talented group, the Beacons do return plenty of experience, as 10 letterwinners from last year's squad are back in 2022. One spot Valpo returns plenty of experience is on the pins. Outside hitters Bella Ravotto and Elise Swistek and right sides Maddy Boyer and Kara Cooper were all starters throughout MVC play and in the NIVC last season. In addition, outside hitter Jillie Grant and Gretchen Kuckkan were starters during the non-conference portion of the schedule before suffering injuries right around the start of MVC action. While Valpo loses Cookerly out of the back row, the Beacons still enter 2022 with a strong back line. Ravotto averaged over three digs per set last year, is nearing 1,000 digs for her career and was MVC Defensive Player of the Week during the spring 2021 season when filling in for a weekend at libero. In addition, Swistek averaged over three digs per set as a rookie last season as well. Meanwhile, at setter, Victoria Bulmahn split time setting with Anderson in a 6-2 last season after earning MVC Freshman of the Year accolades for the spring 2021 season setting full time in a 5-1.
Who's New: The roster is rounded out by seven players who are looking for their first action in the Valpo uniform. Setter Addy Kois and hitter Sam Warren both redshirted last fall in their first season at Valpo. The Beacons welcome a pair of transfer middles to the squad - senior Miranda Strongman (LIU) and junior Olivia Blackketter (Winthrop). Three freshmen round out the newcomers, highlighted by Emma Hickey - the first AVCA High School All-American to sign with Valpo in program history. Outside Sophia Foster and middle Claire Campbell enter their first collegiate season as well.
Conference Honorees: While Victoria Bulmahn was named MVC Freshman of the Year during the spring 2021 campaign and transfer Miranda Strongman was a Second Team All-NEC choice that same season, this year's roster features zero players who have earned First or Second Team All-Conference accolades in the Valpo uniform. The last time Valpo entered a season with no players who had been named First or Second Team All-Conference at Valpo was the 2006 season - that year's team ended up featuring future Valpo Athletics Hall of Famer Angie Porché as a freshman.
Standards Maintained: Posting winning records and winning 20 matches in a season have been standards for the Valpo volleyball program under Coach Avery, and the 2021 team maintained those standards. The Beacons posted their 18th winning season in Avery’s 20 seasons at the helm and won at least 20 matches for the 16th time in the last 20 years. In addition, Valpo has finished in the top half of the MVC standings in each of its five seasons in the conference - a feat only matched by Illinois State - and has posted top-half conference finishes in 28 of the last 29 years.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play last fall, finishing 15th nationally and leading the MVC with 17.13 digs/set. The program has ranked among the top-30 nationally in digs/set in each of the last 11 seasons, highlighted by the 2017 campaign in which it led the nation with 20.03 digs/set. Other top finishes include third nationally in the spring 2021 season (20.37/set), 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.
One More Go-Round: Outside hitter Jillie Grant opted to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility afforded by the NCAA due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to return for her fifth season in the Valpo uniform. Last season, Grant suffered an ankle injury late in pre-conference action, right after earning All-Tournament Team accolades at Toledo's Blue & Gold Classic, and was unable to fully recover. She has been a starter on the outside since the beginning of her sophomore year and ranked second on the team in kills in both the 2019 and the spring 2021 seasons. Grant enters her fifth year with 747 career digs and 659 career kills.