Valparaiso (19-6, 7-6 MVC)
Friday, Nov. 4 - at Belmont (7-19, 3-10 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 5 - at Murray State (9-14, 5-8 MVC) - 3 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: With the regular season schedule starting to hit the home stretch, the Valpo volleyball team faces its final road trip of the season this weekend, trekking south to face off with MVC newcomers Belmont and Murray State.
Previously: Valpo split a pair of matches at home at the ARC last weekend, falling to Evansville in four sets before bouncing back with a three-set sweep of Indiana State.
Looking Ahead: Valpo closes the regular season with three consecutive home matches, hosting Bradley (Nov. 11), Illinois State (Nov. 12) and UIC (Nov. 16).
Following the Beacons: Both matches this weekend will be broadcast live on ESPN3. 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 468 matches (468-223, .677) 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 523-247 (.679) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Belmont - Valpo has won the only two matchups all-time against the Bruins - a 3-1 victory in 2005 at DePaul, and a 3-2 triumph earlier this season at the ARC in their first meeting as conference foes. That match featured 225 combined digs between the two squads, with the Beacons racking up an MVC-season high 117 and freshman libero Emma Hickey tallying 37 digs, second-most in Valpo history by a freshman.
Murray State - Valpo has earned wins in all five previous matchups with the Racers, including a three-set sweep at the ARC earlier this year. That match was notable for its balance from the Beacons, as no Valpo player had more than seven kills in the victory. Hickey notched 21 digs in the win, while Bella Ravotto added 17.
Scouting the Opposition: Belmont - The Bruins enter Friday's match at 7-19 overall and 3-10 in Valley action, sitting on an eight-match losing streak. Laura Shoopman ranks seventh in the MVC in kills (3.45/set), while Peyton O'Brien is eighth in the conference in assists (7.96/set).
Murray State - The Racers enter the weekend at 9-14 overall and 5-8 in MVC play, with a match against UIC on Friday night before facing Valpo. Bailey DeMier ranks among the Valley's top-10 in service aces (2nd, 0.39/set) and assists (6th, 9.95/set), while Dahlia Miller is seventh in digs (4.07/set).
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: The Beacons have already clinched their 19th winning season in Avery’s 21 seasons at the helm and are just one win away from the 20-win mark, which they would reach 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.
Standings Battle: Valpo finds itself in the middle of a dense pack of teams in mid-table in the MVC standings with just five matches to play. At 7-6 in conference action this year, the Beacons are currently tied for Evansville in fifth place. Ahead of Valpo by just one game are UIC and Southern Illinois in a two-way tie for third. But just two games back of Valpo currently is a three-way tie at 5-8 for seventh place between Bradley, Missouri State and Murray State - a tie which is extremely relevant this year because only the top eight teams in the final regular season standings make the conference tournament. The good news for Valpo is that four of the Beacons' final five matches of the regular season come against teams currently in the bottom half of the standings.
Second-Half Success: Valpo sat at 5-4 and in a tie for fourth place in the MVC standings when it hit the halfway mark of the conference slate, a good position for the team to be in if the team can replicate the second-half success its had in previous Valley seasons - especially with five of its final seven matches at home. In its first five seasons in the MVC, Valpo posted a cumulative 21-24 record in the first half of Valley play and improved that mark to 28-17 in the second half of those conference campaigns. Notably, the Beacons' top two records since joining the MVC have both come after going 5-4 in the first half of conference play, as the 2018 team went 6-3 in the second half to finish 11-7 and last year's squad went 7-2 in the second half to finish 12-6.
Efficient Output: After falling to Evansville in four sets last Friday, Valpo bounced back in a big way with a sweep of Indiana State on Saturday, one which was highlighted by the Beacons' offensive efficiency. Valpo hit .321 with 48 kills in the three-set win. The .321 hitting percentage was the Beacons’ best within MVC play and their second-highest percentage of the year. Meanwhile, the 48 kills were the second-most for Valpo this year in a three-set match. Six different Valpo players tallied between five and 10 kills in the win, led by senior Bella Ravotto, who posted 10 kills on .348 hitting to lead all players and added 12 digs for her eighth double-double of the year.
Cooper's Strong Attack: While Valpo dropped the match to Evansville last Friday, senior right side Kara Cooper enjoyed one of her best matches of the year on the attack. Cooper racked up a team-best 16 kills - the third time this season she has tallied at least 15 terminations - and swung at a .406 clip. The senior leads the Beacons with 2.36 kills/set and paces the team's pin hitters with a .265 hitting percentage.
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 continued to rack up the digs last weekend, posting a team-best 22 digs against Evansville and a match-high 15 digs versus Indiana State. Hickey has registered 20 or more digs in 19 of Valpo's 25 matches, with the Indiana State match snapping a run of nine straight matches with 20+ digs. She ranks sixth nationally in digs/set, averaging 5.58 digs/set ‑ the only freshman among the top-40 in the nation - and is third nationally with 547 total digs.
Record Book Watch: Hickey is just 39 digs away from cracking Valpo's top-10 single-season dig totals in the 25-point era, joining a few of her teammates who are in position to make moves onto the program's top-10 charts. Mallory Januski is on pace to easily best the program's single-season hitting percentage record, as her .353 clip would best the overall record of .334 (Nicole Schulz, 2006) and far surpass the 25-point era record of .307 (Kelsey Victor, 2014).
Meanwhile, fellow middle Miranda Strongman might challenge that record as well, as she is now hitting .323 on the season. Also, with a team-best 25 service aces, Victoria Bulmahn is just five aces shy of moving into the top-10 in the 25-point era in that category.
Reaching Milestones: Earlier this season, Bella Ravotto became the 23rd player in program history to record at least 1,000 career digs. With 1,198 digs entering this weekend, Ravotto currently ranks 18th in program history in that department. Meanwhile, Victoria Bulmahn enters this weekend with 1,980 career assists, poised this weekend to become just the 11th player in program history with at least 2,000 career assists.
Players of the Week: Hickey has earned a trio of weekly awards from the MVC office this year to lead the Beacons, as she has twice been named Defensive Player of the Week to go with one Freshman of the Week honor. 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: A number of standout efforts this year have cracked Valpo's single-match records, most recently Oct. 22, when Miranda Strongman hit .588 in Valpo's win at SIU - the fifth-best hitting percentage in a four-set match in the 25-point era. In Valpo's Oct. 8 win over Belmont, the Beacons totaled 117 digs - fourth-most in a five-set match by Valpo in the 25-point era. Valpo was led in that match by Emma Hickey, whose 37 digs are second-most by a freshman in program history and fifth in a five-set match in the 25-point era. And while it didn't impact the record book, Elise Swistek also had 31 digs in that match, as it was the first time in program history two Valpo players have both tallied 30+ digs in the same match.
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 seventh nationally and lead the MVC with 17.47 digs/set.
So Much Balance: It just goes to show how balanced this year's Valpo team is on the attack that you have to scroll all the way down to 30th place in the Valley to find the Beacons' top producer of kills per set so far this season - Kara Cooper, who's averaging 2.36 kills/set. Seven different players are averaging between 1.84 and 2.36 kills/set. The balance has been even more prevalent within MVC play, as six different players have between 62 and 109 kills through 13 conference matches. In fact, Cooper's team-best average of 2.32 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.