Once again playing shorthanded and completing a grueling stretch of four consecutive road matches over the last two weekends, the Valpo volleyball team dug deep on Saturday evening with a well-rounded team effort to overcome a one-set deficit and earn a 3-1 (20-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-22) victory at third-place Southern Illinois.
How It Happened
- Valpo jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the opening set Saturday evening in Carbondale, but the Salukis were able to erase that deficit by 10-10. The Beacons scored three of the next four to go up 13-11 before SIU reeled off seven points in a row to take the lead for good en route to winning the opening set.
- The second set eventually featured 12 ties and four lead changes as the two sides vied for control. Valpo led by three points early at 6-3, but the script quickly flipped with an 8-1 run giving SIU an 11-7 lead.
- The Beacons battled back to tie the frame at 12-12, 13-13, and 14-14, and after the Salukis scored three in a row to go up 17-14, Valpo reeled off four straight points — including kills by seniors Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) and Miranda Strongman (Wolverine Lake, Mich./Walled Lake Central [LIU]) — to regain the advantage at 18-17.
- The Salukis countered with four of the next five points to pull back ahead, 21-19. Consecutive kills from Strongman were followed by another Ravotto kill turned the tables back in Valpo’s favor, however, and after SIU briefly tied the set once again at 22-22, the Salukis committed three consecutive errors as the Beacons were able to level the match at one set apiece.
- The pin block of Strongman and Gretchen Kuckkan (Lafayette, Ind./Central Catholic [Indiana State]) got the third set off to a rousing start for the Beacons, as the duo combined for three blocks on the first five points of the frame.
- Valpo seemed poised to run away with the third set, leading by as many as seven points, but SIU put together a rally and eventually pulled into a tie at 18-18.
- The Beacons made sure the Salukis would not gain the outright lead in the third set, though, as a kill by Kuckkan and yet another rejection by Strongman and Kuckkan were part of a four-point spurt to turn that 18-18 tie into a 22-18 lead. Valpo finished out the set on a 7-1 run, capped by a block from fifth-year Jillie Grant (Maumee, Ohio/Anthony Wayne) and junior Mallory Januski (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais), to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
- Valpo’s attack was on point in the final set, as the Beacons hit at a .429 clip in the fourth frame. Another quick start proved key, with Valpo scoring six of the set’s first seven points — two of which came on back-to-back service aces from redshirt freshman Addy Kois (Osceola, Ind./Penn).
- Valpo never trailed in the fourth set, and had match point at 24-17. The Salukis put together a run to score five in a row to close to within 24-22, but a kill by Januski eventually closed the match in the Beacons’ favor and ended the road swing on a happy note.
Inside the Match
- Valpo defeated Southern Illinois for the fourth straight matchup in the series, taking down a Saluki squad on Saturday which entered the evening in third place in the MVC standings.
- The win was highlighted by great performances both offensively and defensively. On the defensive side, the Beacons out-blocked the Salukis 13-2, the first time Valpo has owned an advantage of 10 or more blocks over its opponent since a 14-2 advantage over Saint Francis on Aug. 24, 2018.
- Valpo’s block has really enjoyed Davies Gym the last couple seasons, as the Beacons posted 14 blocks at SIU last season.
- Offensively, Valpo hit at an efficient .288 clip, the team’s best effort in a Valley match since hitting .308 at Indiana State on March 21, 20221.
- It’s not often a team will have four attackers hit at least .400 with 10 or more attacks, but that’s what the Beacons were able to do on Saturday. Leading the attack was Strongman, who paced Valpo with 12 kills on 17 swings, hitting .588 and also matching her season best as she tied for match-high honors with seven blocks.
- It’s likely even rarer that a setter who spent an entire season setting in a 5-1 would set her career high for kills while setting exclusively back row in a 6-2, but that’s what junior Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) accomplished on Saturday night. Bulmahn picked up a career-best six kills on 10 attacks, hitting .500 while adding 21 assists and 15 digs for the 29th double-double of her career.
- One night after leading the way on the attack for Valpo, Grant had another strong match on Saturday as she narrowly missed a double-double. Grant finished with nine kills on .400 hitting and picked up nine digs defensively as well.
- Januski rounded out the quartet hitting .400 or better with a .400 hitting percentage, tallying five kills on 10 swings. The junior was in on six blocks as well, just one shy of her career best.
- Ravotto and Kuckkan contributed eight kills apiece to the balanced Valpo attack. The latter also shattered her previous career best for blocks, as she was in on seven rejections to match Strongman for match-high honors after entering the match with a career high of four.
- Kois dished out 17 assists to complement Bulmahn’s 21 helpers.
- Freshman libero Emma Hickey (Granger, Ind./Penn) led all players on Saturday with a match-high 21 digs. Hickey, who surpassed 500 digs on the season Saturday, has posted 20+ digs in 18 of Valpo’s 23 matches this year.
- Valpo won Saturday evening, snapping a three-match losing streak, despite being without the services of outside hitter Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) and right side Kara Cooper (LaPorte, Ind./LaPorte) due to illness.
- Swistek was out for the second straight night, while Kois returned to action after missing Friday’s match, which allowed Valpo to run its preferred 6-2 offense.
Valpo (18-5, 6-5 MVC) will play at home for five of its final seven matches of the regular season, beginning next Friday as the Beacons host Evansville at 6 p.m., live on ESPN3.