Valparaiso (21-9, 9-9 MVC)
at MVC Championship - Evansville, Ind.
Sunday, Nov. 20 - vs. Murray State (12-16, 8-10 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 21 - vs. UIC (21-9, 13-5 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 22 - vs. Drake (25-6, 16-2 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 23 - Title match - 4 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: The Valpo volleyball team heads to the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in Evansville early next week. With this season's new tournament format, the sixth-seeded Beacons will have to win four matches in four days to claim the tournament title, starting with a Sunday evening matchup against seventh-seeded Murray State.
Previously: After dropping the first two sets Wednesday night in the regular season finale against UIC, Valpo held off multiple match point chances by the Flames in set three to force a fourth set and had two opportunities to send the match to a fifth set, but eventually succumbed, 3-1. Mallory Januski set a career high in the kills column with 16.
Looking Ahead: The winner of the tournament earns the MVC's automatic bid to the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The NIVC is also a potential postseason landing spot for Valley teams.
Following the Beacons: Every tournament match will be broadcast live on ESPN+ and have live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 21st season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 470 matches (470-226, .675) 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 Mid-Con 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 525-250 (.677) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Murray State - 5-1 overall; 5-1 under Coach Avery; 1-1 in MVC.
10/7 - W 3-0 at Valpo - Hickey 21 digs, Ravotto 17 digs.
11/5 - L 3-2 at Murray - Januski 13 blocks, Boyer 11 kills/6 blocks, Hickey 30 digs.
UIC - 31-26 overall (most common opponent in program history); 22-7 under Coach Avery; 0-2 in MVC.
9/26 - L 3-0 at UIC - Hickey 14 digs, Januski 4 blocks.
11/16 - L 3-1 at Valpo - Januski 16 kills/.556/4 blocks, Grant 12 kills/.323/9 digs.
Drake - 13-5 overall; 12-4 mark under Coach Avery; 9-3 since joining the MVC.
9/24 - W 3-2 at Valpo - Strongman 12 kills/.500/5 blocks, Ravotto 15 kills/15 digs
10/14 - L 3-1 at Drake - Hickey 24 digs, Ravotto 11 kills/15 digs
Another 20-Win Campaign: With their win over Belmont in early November, the Beacons reached the 20-win mark this season. It's a milestone that has become routine for the program, yet still impressive in its totality as Valpo has now won 20 or more matches in 17 of Carin Avery's 21 seasons as head coach. Even more remarkably, one of the four seasons Valpo didn't reach 20 wins was the shortened spring 2021 campaign, when the program played just 20 matches total. The Beacons have also secured their 19th winning season in Avery’s 21 seasons at the helm.
Top Half Finishes: In addition to the 20-win season, the Beacons also secured a top-half finish in the MVC standings with their home win over Bradley. Valpo has now finished in the top-half of the Valley standings in each of its six years in the conference, the only MVC program to accomplish that feat - Illinois State had finished top-half each of the last five years, but dropped out of the top-six this season. Going back further, Valpo has posted top-half conference finishes in 20 of Avery's 21 seasons - as well as qualifying for the conference tournament in each of her 21 seasons - and 29 of the last 30 years overall.
Tournament History: The Beacons enter the 2022 MVC Championship with a 3-4 record since joining the Valley in conference tournament play. Valpo has won its opening round matchup in each of its last three appearances at the tournament, all of which have come against teams within one seed of it entering the tournament. Valpo has then fallen to the tournament's top seed in all three of those instances. Valpo did not compete at the spring 2021 tournament after qualifying as the fifth seed, as it was forced to withdraw due to COVID-19 issues.
Hickey Leads the Valley: For the third consecutive season, a Valpo libero will led the Missouri Valley Conference in digs/set, but this year, it is a new face in freshman Emma Hickey. Hickey concluded the regular season atop the Valley in digs both overall (5.73/set) and in MVC-only play (6.00/set). In the regular season finale against UIC, Hickey surpassed Rylee Cookerly for both Valpo and MVC freshman records for digs in a season, as she enters the MVC Championship with 687 digs this year - a mark which ranks fifth in Valpo history overall and 10th in MVC history overall. The rookie posted consistent dig totals throughout Valley play, tallying at least 14 in every match and hitting the 20-dig mark in 15 of 18 matches - highlighted by a 42-dig performance against Bradley, one off Valpo's single-match record and the highest dig total by a Valley player in the last two seasons.
And Stands Out Nationally: Hickey's gaudy digs average of 5.73 digs/set is good for fourth nationally, while her 687 total digs are third-most in the nation - just 10 shy of the top spot. No other Division I freshman is within 200 digs of Hickey's total this season, while only one other freshman ranks among the nation's top-60 in digs/set this year. With at least one match remaining, Hickey already ranks sixth among D-I freshmen in total digs during their rookie year over the last 12 seasons, just 10 away from third.
Januski Takes Her Shot: Junior middle Mallory Januski bided her time behind a pair of All-Conference middles in her first two seasons at Valpo, but given the opportunity this year to run with a starting role, Januski has taken full advantage. She leads the team and ranks fourth in the Valley with a .369 hitting percentage, a mark which is poised to smash the program's single-season record. Januski also ranks sixth in the Valley with an even one block per set. Offensively, Januski enters the MVC Championship coming off a career-best 16 kills on .556 hitting on Wednesday against UNI, while her defensive campaign was highlighted by a monster 13-block performance at Murray State, a program record for the 25-point era.
Setting Things Up: Junior setter Victoria Bulmahn became just the 11th player in program history to reach the 2,000-assist milestone for her career earlier this month at Belmont. Bulmahn is averaging 5.08 assists/set this year, while her cohort in the Beacons' 6-2 offense, redshirt freshman Addy Kois, is averaging 5.51 assists/set. The duo has set the way all season long as Valpo is on pace to finish this season with the team's best single-season hitting percentage since 2015.
Keeping Rallies Alive: Senior outside Bella Ravotto has become somewhat of a star on the NCAA Volleyball social media accounts, where she has been highlighted multiple times this season for ridiculous saves she's made which have kept plays alive that Valpo would eventually win the point. But it's her consistency in the back row that has been a key to the Beacons' defensive prowess. Ravotto is averaging 3.25 digs/set on the year and has been in double figures in digs 21 times this year and 75 times for her career. Early this season, Ravotto became the 23rd player in program history to surpass 1,000 career digs. She enters the MVC Championship with 1,270 career digs, just one shy of 15th place in program history.
Players of the Week: Three Valpo players combined for a total of six MVC weekly honors this season. Emma Hickey picked up a team-best three awards - two Defensive Player of the Week and one Freshman of the Week. Mallory Januski was named Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week once apiece - the only MVC player to earn both honors this season. Bella Ravotto picked up Defensive Player of the Week honors early this season as well. In all, Valpo players have earned 27 weekly accolades from the conference office since joining the MVC prior to the 2017 season.
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 fifth nationally and lead the MVC with 17.54 digs/set.
Rejection After Rejection: While Valpo's dig totals are among the nation's best year after year, the emergence of the Beacon block this season has helped bolster the defense as one of the conference's best in opponent hitting percentage. Valpo is averaging 2.25 blocks/set on the year, a mark which rises to 2.38 blocks/set in MVC-only play. The 2.25 blocks/set currently ranks second in the 25-point era for a Valpo team, trailing only the 2013 squad.
So Much Balance: It just goes to show how balanced this year's Valpo team is on the attack that no Valpo attacker ranks in the top-30 in the conference in kills/set. The Beacons' top producer of kills per set so far this season, Bella Ravotto, averages 2.24 kills/set. Seven different players are averaging between 1.88 and 2.24 kills/set. The balance has been prevalent within MVC play as well, as eight different players are averaging at least 1.60 kills/set, led by Kara Cooper's 2.09 kills/set.
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.
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.
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.