Valparaiso (9-0, 0-0 MVC)
at Roadrunner Classic
Friday, Sept. 16 - vs. UIW (1-6) - 10 a.m.
at UTSA (3-6) - 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 17 - vs. Houston Baptist (7-3) - 11 a.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: With all its success over the years, there's not too many firsts left for the Valpo volleyball program to accomplish, but this weekend could bring one of them, as the Beacons look for an unprecedented sweep of four in-season tournaments in the same season as they travel to the Roadrunner Classic. With a win in the opener versus UIW, this year's team would also stand alone for the best start to a season in program history.
Previously: Valpo claimed tournament hardware for the third straight weekend, winning the Akron Invitational with victories over Morgan State (3-0), Akron (3-1) and Cleveland State (3-1). Bella Ravotto was named MVC Defensive Player of the Week for her work in the three wins.
Looking Ahead: MVC play opens up next week, with Valpo at home to host UNI and Drake before traveling to UIC to finish up a stretch of three matches in four days.
Following the Beacons: Valpo's match against UTSA will be broadcast live on CUSA.tv. All tournament matches will have live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 21st season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 458 matches (458-217, .679) 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 512-241 (.680) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: This weekend marks the first time Valpo has played UIW, UTSA and Houston Baptist.
Scouting the Opposition: UIW - The Cardinals sit at 1-6 on the season after dropping three matches last weekend at the College of Charleston Classic. UIW was picked to finish fifth in the Southland Conference this year after going 13-19 last season.
UTSA - The tournament hosts are 3-6 entering the weekend and will be hosting a tournament for the second straight weekend. The Roadrunners are coached by a familiar face, as former Bradley head coach Carol Price-Torok is in her first season in the head spot at UTSA.
Houston Baptist - The Huskies enter the weekend with a 7-3 record this season, most recently sweeping Prairie View A&M in mid-week action. HBU was chosen to finish second in the Southland in the conference's preseason poll, picking up seven of 20 first-place votes.
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.
Winning Three Titles: For the fifth time in program history, Valpo has won three in-season tournament titles in the same season after claiming the Akron Invitational title last weekend. This year's team joins the 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 squads in bringing home three trophies in one season. This year's team joins the 2010 team as the only one in program history to win tournaments on three consecutive weekends to open the season. Valpo has now won 32 in-season tournament titles in head coach Carin Avery's 21 seasons at the helm of the program, including its home tournament seven times (out of 11 opportunities). The team has won at least one tournament in 16 of her 21 seasons, and multiple tournaments 11 times.
Best Start: With the tournament-clinching victory over Cleveland State last Saturday, Valpo improved to 9-0 on the season, matching the 2015 squad for the most consecutive wins to start a season in program history. This year’s squad has had to battle a bit more, however. The 2015 team dropped just three sets in those nine matches, while the 2022 team has dropped eight sets. This marks the 11th time in program history that Valpo has won at least nine straight matches at any point of the season, nine of which have come under Avery. There have been six double-digit winning streaks all time, including the record 14-match winning streak in 2004.
Ranks of the Unbeaten: As of the end of play Wednesday, Valpo sits as one of just nine undefeated D-I programs in the country. The Beacons are joined by Boston College, Jacksonville State, Towson, Auburn, Penn State, Texas, UCF and Hampton in making it unscathed to this point of the season.
Players of the Week: Valpo's defensive prowess is well established, and it has been recognized in the conference weekly awards to start the year, as the Beacons have claimed Defensive Player of the Week honors twice in the season's first three weekends. Most recently, senior Bella Ravotto was named this week's Defensive Player of the Week for her performance at the Akron Invitational, highlighted by a 30-dig performance in the tournament finale against Cleveland State — her second career match with 30+ digs and the most by any MVC player in a four-set match this season. For the weekend, Ravotto averaged 4.80 digs/set and 0.60 blocks/set as her play helped Valpo limit its opposition to .078 hitting over the three matches. Previously, freshman libero Emma Hickey picked up the defensive weekly honor following the opening weekend of action. In its sixth season as an MVC school, Valpo has earned 13 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Putting Up the Block: While Valpo's defensive prowess has typically focused on its back-row play over the years, the effort at the net was the highlight of Friday night's win at Akron. Led by a career-best eight blocks from senior Rachel Speck, the Beacons registered 15.5 total team blocks in the victory over the Zips. That mark is fourth-most in the 25-point era in a four-set match by a Valpo team, and it is the most blocks Valpo has recorded in any length match since Nov. 15, 2019.
Reaching 1000: For Ravotto, the weekly award wasn't the only milestone from last weekend. With her 27th dig of the weekend finale against Cleveland State, the senior reached the 1,000-dig mark for her career. Ravotto is the 23rd player in Valpo volleyball history to reach four figures in digs.
Career Bests: Senior right side Kara Cooper delivered a pair of big efforts on the attack last weekend to help Valpo win the Akron Invitational. Against the host Zips Friday night, Cooper smashed her previous career high (12 kills), delivering a team-high 18 kills on .382 hitting to go with five blocks in the four-set win. The senior then turned around Saturday morning and posted the second-best kill total of her career, finishing with 15 kills on .294 hitting in the win over Cleveland State.
Swinging Big: After biding her time behind a pair of experienced middles her first two seasons, junior middle Mallory Januski is enjoying a breakout season in the early portion of the 2022 campaign. Last weekend, Januski hit .444 with 20 kills over the course of Valpo's three victories, culminating in a career-best 12 kills on .500 hitting in the Beacons' tournament clincher against Cleveland State. Through three weekends, Januski is hitting at a .384 clip, best of any MVC player.
What a Performance: It was a career night for senior outside Gretchen Kucckan as Valpo clinched the Popcorn Classic title on Sept. 3 with its win over Northern Illinois. Kuckkan delivered 25 kills - far outpacing her previous career best of 17 - and did so at an efficiency seldom seen from an outside hitter. She hit at a .489 clip, 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, while she is one of just five Valpo players to tally 25 or more kills in any length match under 25-point scoring, joining Angie Porché, Emily Campbell, Peyton McCarthy and Jillie Grant.
All-Tournament Honors: While no All-Tournament Team was chosen last weekend at the Akron Invitational, Valpo has still already had six players earn All-Tournament accolades this season. Senior Gretchen Kuckkan was MVC of the Popcorn Classic and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by fellow seniors Maddy Boyer and Kara Cooper. On opening weekend at the Youngstown Invitational, sophomore Elise Swistek was awarded the MVP award, while senior Bella Ravotto and freshman Emma Hickey picked up All-Tournament accolades.
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 newcomers to the active roster. 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. It's been more of the same so far this year, as the Beacons enter the weekend 28th nationally with 16.26 digs/set.