Two weekends, two tournament titles for the Valpo volleyball program, as the Beacons completed a perfect weekend at the ARC in their own Popcorn Classic with a 3-1 (33-31, 25-21, 18-25, 25-15) victory over Northern Illinois to claim the tournament championship. Saturday’s win was led by a career performance from senior Gretchen Kuckkan (Lafayette, Ind./Central Catholic [Indiana State]), who hit .489 with 25 kills — tied for fourth-most in a four-set match in the 25-point scoring era.
How It Happened
- Valpo led 8-2 early in the opening set and pulled out to as much as a seven-point lead at one point, but the story of the opening frame was what happened late. The Beacons led 23-17 before NIU scored five in a row, setting up a dramatic end to the frame.
- A kill from senior Kara Cooper (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) gave Valpo set point at 24-22, but NIU scored the next three to earn a set point chance of its own at 25-24, one which was staved off by a Kuckkan kill.
- At that point, nobody knew just how deep into extra points the set would go. NIU eventually held off seven Valpo set point opportunities, while a Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) kill for the Beacons trailing 29-28 held off a second chance for the Huskies. Finally, Valpo’s eighth prospect to take the opener was the charm, as leading 32-31, Kuckkan came through with a termination to give Valpo the 1-0 lead in the match.
- The second set was much tamer, as the Beacons scored the first five points on a service run by junior Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) and never relinquished the advantage. In fact, NIU never closed to closer than two points as Valpo eventually closed out the set on a kill by sophomore Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) to take a 2-0 lead.
- An 8-0 run in the middle of the third set allowed the Huskies to take control as they avoided the sweep and extended the contest into a fourth set.
- Valpo left no doubt about the match’s winner and the tournament champion in the fourth set, though. Three straight kills from Kuckkan kicked off a 9-2 early run which put Valpo ahead 12-6, and the Beacons’ lead remained at least four points the rest of the way. Fittingly, it was Kuckkan who closed out the match with a full-power swing on a back-row attack for her 25th kill of the night.
Inside the Match
- Kuckkan delivered a match to remember on Saturday night. Her 25 kills far outpaced her previous career best of 17 and more than doubled her best effort in the first five matches of the season.
- Kuckkan didn’t just tally 25 kills, she did so at an efficiency seldom seen from an outside hitter. The senior hit .489, committing just two attack errors on 47 swings — meaning that over half her swings resulted in kills.
- Kuckkan’s 25 kills are tied for fourth-most in a four-set match by a Valpo player since the move to 25-point rally scoring. Valpo Athletics Hall of Famer Angie Porché is the only player in the program with more kills in a four-set match under 25-point scoring.
- In fact, Kuckkan is one of just five Valpo players to tally 25 or more kills in any length match under 25-point scoring, joining Porché, Emily Campbell, Peyton McCarthy and Jillie Grant (Maumee, Ohio/Anthony Wayne).
- Kuckkan didn’t just stand out offensively on Saturday, either. Defensively, she notched 15 digs — tripling her previous high in her time at Valpo and posting her first double-double as a Beacon. Kuckkan was also part of three blocks as well.
- Offensively, Boyer seconded Kucckan’s impressive night with a strong effort from the right side, tallying 12 kills on .407 hitting for her 10th match in double-figure kills at Valpo.
- Bulmahn posted her 25th career double-double, notching 25 assists and 11 digs, while Addy Kois (Osceola, Ind./Penn) handed out 18 assists.
- Freshman libero Emma Hickey (Granger, Ind./Penn) has posted 20+ digs four times and has led all players five times in the first six matches of her career, recording 21 digs on Saturday.
- Junior Mallory Januski (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) matched her career high defensively with five blocks, while Cooper was in on four of Valpo’s 10 team blocks.
- Valpo continued its strong offensive performance so far this season on Saturday, posting 60 kills over the four sets and hitting at a .258 clip.
- The 33-31 first set was the deepest into extra points Valpo has gone into a frame since dropping a 34-32 set to Oakland on Nov. 8, 2014. It is the first time since beating Youngstown State in a set, 33-31, on Oct. 6, 2012 that Valpo has won a set that deep into extra points.
Inside the Tournament
- Valpo claimed the Popcorn Classic championship with a perfect 3-0 record. Saturday’s other matches saw SIUE best Northern Illinois, 3-2, and Campbell prevail over SIUE, 3-1.
- Valpo has now played 11 in-season tournaments in the tenure of head coach Carin Avery and has come away with the tournament title seven times.
- It is the 31st in-season tournament title in Avery’s 21 years at the helm of the program and is the 11th time in that span that the program has won multiple titles in the same season.
- It is the fifth time that Valpo has won each of its first two tournaments of the season, joining the 2003, 2010, 2013 and 2015 teams.
Valpo (6-0) will put its perfect record on the time and take aim at a third straight championship next weekend at the Akron/CSU Invitational.