Valparaiso (17-2, 5-2 MVC)
Friday, Oct. 14 - at Drake (14-6, 5-2 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15 - at UNI (14-6, 7-0 MVC) - 7 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: A challenging road trip awaits the Valpo volleyball team this weekend as it hits the halfway mark of the MVC schedule. The weekend opens Friday evening at a Drake squad which the Beacons are tied for second place in the MVC standings with, and continues Saturday night at first-place UNI.
Previously: Valpo extended its winning streak to four consecutive matches with a pair of home wins last weekend, sweeping Murray State and besting Belmont in five sets. Freshman libero Emma Hickey was named MVC Defensive Player of the Week for her work in the wins.
Looking Ahead: A second straight long road trip awaits the Beacons next weekend, as they head out for the Missouri State/Southern Illinois road swing.
Following the Beacons: Friday night's match will be broadcast live on ESPN3, while UNI will have a live audio broadcast of Saturday night's contest. In addition, both 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 466 matches (466-219, .680) 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 521-243 (.682) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Drake - Valpo is 13-4 all-time against the Bulldogs, including an 12-3 mark under Avery and a 9-2 record since joining the Valley. Valpo has won six straight in the series, including a hard-fought five-set win at the ARC last month. Bella Ravotto posted 15 kills and 15 digs in that win, while Miranda Strongman hit .500 with 12 kills and five blocks.
UNI - The Panthers hold a 15-4 advantage all-time over Valpo and snapped the Beacons' four-match winning streak in the series last month with a 3-2 win at the ARC. Valpo was up 2-1 and 20-13 in the fourth set and eventually had a match point later in that frame before falling to the Panthers. Maddy Boyer tallied a career-best 16 kills, while Rachel Speck tied her career high with eight blocks.
Scouting the Opposition: Drake - The Bulldogs enter the weekend tied with Valpo and UIC for second place in the Valley at 5-2 in MVC play and 14-6 overall after dropping a four-set match at UNI on Tuesday. Drake boasts two of the Valley's top-five players in kills per set in Haley Bush (3.91, 3rd) and Mariana Rodrigues (3.58, 5th).
UNI - The Panthers enter the weekend atop the MVC standings, unscathed in conference play so far at 7-0 and 14-6 overall. Emily Holterhaus leads the team with 3.19 kills/set, while Inga Rotto hits a team-best .346, good for fifth in the Valley. Carly Spies ranks third in the MVC with a team-high 1.08 blocks/set and Sydney Petersen picks up 4.15 digs/set at libero, fifth-best in the conference.
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 Ways: As of the end of play Tuesday, Valpo's 17 victories were tied for second-most among all Division I programs, trailing only Towson's 18 and tied with WKU, Stephen F. Austin and UTRGV. With a 17-2 record, the Beacons have matched the program record for the best record through 19 matches, as the 2018 team also was 17-2 at this juncture of the season.
A Look at the RPI: The NCAA released its second weekly RPI of the season on Monday, and Valpo comes in at #67 in the rankings, just one spot behind UNI for the best in the Valley. In all, four MVC programs sit within the top-100 (UIC-74, Drake-88).
Another Winning Weekend: Much like the previous weekend, Valpo came away with a pair of wins last weekend in dramatically different fashion. Friday night saw the Beacons cruise to a sweep of Murray State, their first three-set win in MVC regular season action in the last 13 matches. Valpo put together a balanced attack in that win, with three players sharing team-high honors with seven kills apiece - the fewest kills by Valpo's leader in a victory in at least the last five seasons. Then, Saturday brought a vintage Valpo volleyball battle, as the Beacons outlasted Belmont for a five-set win in a match which contained 34 ties and 16 lead changes. Kara Cooper stood out in that match, registering a match-high 20 kills as she set a career best in the category, while also smashing her previous career high for attacks with 56.
Just Keep Digging: If you're a fan of long rallies and strong back-row defense, Saturday night's match with Belmont was one for the ages. Valpo racked up 117 digs over Saturday’s five sets, fourth-most in program history in a five-set match in the 25-point era. The 117 digs are the most in a single match by an MVC team this season. Leading the way in that column individually was Emma Hickey, who delivered a season-best 37 digs in the win — second-most by a Valpo freshman in a single match all-time. She now ranks fifth in program history in the 25-point era in a five-set match, while she is tied for MVC-high honors this season. Elise Swistek stood out as well for her back-row defense in the victory, surpassing her career high as well as she racked up 31 digs, a career best by four. Hickey and Swistek became the first pair of Valpo players to each register 30+ digs in the same match in program history. Bella Ravotto made it three Beacons with 20+ digs as she notched 20 digs in the win, the seventh time in her career she has hit the 20-dig mark.
Five-Set Drama: If you want dramatic volleyball, just tune in to Valpo on Saturday evening. All three of Valpo's Saturday matches in Valley play to date have gone the full five sets. In all, four of the Beacons' first seven MVC matches have gone the distance after playing just two five-set affairs in MVC play all last season. Overall this year, Valpo owns a 5-1 record in five-set matches, including a 3-0 mark when winning the first two sets and then dropping sets three and four.
Consistency From Hickey: A big part of Valpo's strength in the back row has been its run of standout liberos, and freshman Emma Hickey has slotted right into that role this season and maintained the prolificacy. Hickey had her highest weekly output of digs/set of the season last week, averaging 7.25 digs/set in Valpo's pair of wins. She posted a match-high 21 digs in the sweep of Murray State, the second-highest total by an MVC player in a three-set match this year, trailing only her own 23 earlier this season at UTSA. Through seven weekends of action, Hickey ranks eighth nationally, averaging 5.47 digs/set ‑ the only freshman among the top-30 in the nation. It's been a steady run of performances for the rookie so far, as Hickey has tallied double-figure digs in 17 of Valpo's 19 matches, including 14 matches with at least 20 digs.
Players of the Week: For her performances last week, Hickey was named MVC Defensive Player of the Week - her third weekly award this season (2x Defensive, 1x Freshman). In all, Valpo players have earned five conference weekly accolades this season. Junior middle Mallory Januski was named MVC Player of the Week following her MVP weekend at the Roadrunner Classic, making her Valpo's third weekly award winner in 2022, while senior outside Bella Ravotto was named the MVC Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 12 following her performance over Valpo's three wins at the Akron Invitational. In its sixth season as an MVC school, Valpo has earned 26 weekly conference honors.
Standout Performances: Hickey and the Beacons' dig totals from Saturday night were just the latest in a string of standout efforts this year which have cracked Valpo's record book. Mallory Januski found her way into Valpo's record book in the UIW match Sept. 16, posting a hitting percentage of .688 - the second-highest in a five-set match by a Valpo player in the 25-point era. It was a team performance which cracked the record book Sept. 9, as the Beacons posted 15.5 total team blocks in their win at Akron - fourth-most in a four-set match by a Valpo squad in the 25-point era and the most blocks Valpo has recorded in any length match since Nov. 15, 2019. On Sept. 3, senior Gretchen Kuckkan delivered 25 kills in Valpo's four-set win over Northern Illinois - tied for fourth-most in a four-set match by a Valpo player in the 25-point era and making her one of just five Valpo players to tally 25+ kills in any length match in the 25-point era.
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 are ranked third nationally and lead the MVC with 17.55 digs/set.
So Much Balance: It just goes to show how deep this year's Valpo team is that, despite ranking in the top-60 nationally in kills/set, you have to scroll all the way down to 22th place within the Valley to find the Beacons' top producer of kills so far this season - Kara Cooper, with 166 kills. There is just a spread of 33 kills between her and the fifth-highest Beacon in the category, as Cooper, Bella Ravotto, Mallory Januski, Maddy Boyer and Elise Swistek all have between 133 and 166 kills. The balance has been even more prevalent within MVC play, as six different players (the aforementioned five, plus Miranda Strongman) have between 48 and 65 kills through seven conference matches. In fact, Cooper's team-best average of 2.17 kills/set within MVC-only action doesn't even crack the top-30 in the conference.
Best Start: With the five-set win over UIW to open up the Roadrunner Classic, Valpo improved to 10-0 on the season, breaking a tie with the 2015 squad for the most consecutive wins to start a season in program history. The Beacons went on to start 12-0, the winningest start to a season by any current MVC program since Drake opened the 2010 campaign with 14 consecutive victories.
The Winning Streak: Of course, the 12-0 start meant that Valpo opened the season with 12 consecutive victories. This winning streak is one of six double-digit winning streaks in program history and stands alone as the fourth-longest all-time at Valpo. The 2004 team holds the program record with 14 consecutive wins, while the 2008 and 2014 squads both had streaks of 13 straight wins.
Winning Four Titles: Valpo's win at the Roadrunner Classic gave this year's team four in-season tournament titles this season, an unprecented accomplishment in the history of Valpo volleyball. Previously, Valpo had won three in-season tournaments on four occasions (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018). Valpo has now won 33 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. Those tournament titles have come in 14 different states, with the Roadrunner Classic the first in program history in Texas.
All-Tournament Honors: Setters Victoria Bulmahn and Addy Kois joined MVP Mallory Januski on the All-Tournament Team at the Roadrunner Classic for their work running the Valpo offense. Perhaps apropos given the balance of this year's squad through the nonconference slate, nine different Beacons earned All-Tournament accolades at the three tournaments where an All-Tournament Team was named. 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 this year's team is well on its way to maintaining those standards. The Beacons have already clinched their 19th winning season in Avery’s 21 seasons at the helm and are closing in on the 20-win mark for the 17th time under Avery. In addition, Valpo has finished in the top half of the MVC standings in each of its first 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.