Valparaiso (22-10, 9-9 MVC)
NIVC First/Second Round - Athens, Ohio
Thursday, Dec. 1 - at Ohio (19-11, 13-5 MAC) - 6:30 p.m. CT
Friday, Dec. 2 - vs. Central Michigan (20-11, 12-6 MAC) OR Xavier (19-11, 11-7 Big East) - 5 p.m. CT
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: For the third time in the last five seasons, the Valpo volleyball program heads to postseason play after earning an at-large bid to the 2022 NIVC. The Beacons will travel to Athens, Ohio for the tournament's first two rounds, taking on host Ohio in opening-round action on Thursday before a potential second-round matchup against either Central Michigan or Xavier on Friday.
Previously: Valpo won its first-round match at the MVC Championship on Nov. 20 with a three-set sweep over Murray State, but succumbed in the tournament's second round against UIC, 3-0. Miranda Strongman represented the Beacons on the All-Tournament Team.
Looking Ahead: The winner out of Ohio will meet the winner out of Boston College (BC, Buffalo, St. John's, Binghamton) in the quarterfinals at a date and location to be determined following the first two rounds.
Following the Beacons: Valpo's first two tournament matches will both be broadcasted 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 471 matches (471-227, .675) at the helm of the program and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles. The program has made six 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 59 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 526-251 (.677) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Ohio - 3-1 overall; 2-0 in Athens.
Last meeting - W 3-0 in Valpo on Sept. 8, 2000
Central Michigan - 4-3 overall; 4-2 under Avery; 2-2 at neutral sites.
Last meeting - L 3-1 at DePaul on Sept. 14, 2019 (Grant 13 kills/13 digs; Ravotto 15 digs; Cooper 5 blocks)
Xavier - 2-8 overall; 2-4 at neutral sites.
Last meeting - W 3-2 at Toledo on Sept. 10, 1994
Running It Back: One year removed from its thrilling run to the NIVC title match, Valpo looks to duplicate the feat this season. The Beacons' run through the 2021 NIVC featured all five rounds in an 11-day stretch at the Athletics-Recreation Center, as Valpo swept Butler, Toledo, Evansville and UConn in straight sets to reach the championship before falling to UNLV. The program set a single-match attendance record in the semifinal win over UConn and then smashed it in the title match, as 2,220 fans turned out for the championship versus UNLV.
NIVC Success Away From Home: While last year's run in the NIVC all came on Valpo's home court, the program has experienced success on the road in NIVC action as well. In its first appearance in the tournament in 2018, Valpo earned a four-set win over Ball State in neutral-site action in the first round and then swept Miami (Ohio) on the RedHawks' home court in the second round before falling in four sets at Tulane in the quarterfinal.
MVC In the Postseason: Valpo is one of three MVC programs carrying the conference's banner into postseason play. UNI earned the Valley's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will face Florida State in the opening round. The Beacons are joined in the NIVC by Drake, which earned the MVC's automatic berth and will play Weber State in its first-round match.
Conference Honoree: With as balanced as this year's squad has been, it's not a surprise that only one Valpo player earned postseason recognition when the MVC released its season honors. Freshman libero Emma Hickey earned a pair of awards, as she represented Valpo on the All-MVC Second Team - the only freshman to make First or Second Team - and the All-Freshman Team. It was the first time since 2000 that the program has not had multiple postseason award winners.
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.
Hickey Leads the Valley: For the third consecutive season, a Valpo libero will lead the Missouri Valley Conference in digs/set, but this year, it is a new face in freshman Emma Hickey. Hickey sits 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 NIVC with 722 digs this year - a mark which ranks fifth in Valpo history overall and seventh in MVC history overall. She is just 32 digs away from Valpo's overall single-season record. Hickey posted consistent dig totals throughout Valley play, tallying at least 14 in every match and hitting the 20-dig mark in 15 of 18 regular season 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 722 total digs are fourth-most as well - just 15 shy of the second 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 third among D-I freshmen in total digs during their rookie year over the last 12 seasons, trailing only UCSB's Taylor Formico (792, 2012) and Mississippi State's Payton Harris (735, 2014).
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 .360 hitting percentage, a mark which is poised to smash the program's single-season record. Januski also ranks seventh in the Valley with 0.99 blocks/set. Offensively, Valpo is 7-1 this season when Januski tallies at least 10 kills, 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 in early November at Belmont. Bulmahn is averaging 5.11 assists/set this year, while her cohort in the Beacons' 6-2 offense, redshirt freshman Addy Kois, is averaging 5.46 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 3.21 digs/set on the year and has been in double figures in digs 22 times this year and 76 times for her career. Early this season, Ravotto became the 23rd player in program history to surpass 1,000 career digs. She enters the NIVC ranked 15th in program history with 1,285 career digs, just four shy of 14th position and 23 out of 13th place.
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 seventh nationally and lead the MVC with 17.43 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 2.23 blocks/set on the year, a mark which rose to 2.38 blocks/set in MVC-only play. The 2.23 blocks/set currently ranks third in the 25-point era for a Valpo team, trailing only the 2013 and 2016 squads. Both Mallory Januski (0.99/set, 7th) and Miranda Strongman (0.96/set, 9th) rank in the top-10 in the Valley individually in blocking.
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. Kara Cooper and Bella Ravotto share team-high honors, averaging 2.21 kills/set, while eight different players are averaging at least 1.70 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: Middle Miranda Strongman represented Valpo on the All-Tournament Team at the MVC Championship, meaning 10 different Beacons earned an All-Tournament Team accolade this season. 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. 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.
Academic Honors: A quartet of Beacons earned Academic All-District honors from College Sports Commuicators for their work both on the court and in the classroom, as Maddy Boyer (3.792 GPA, nursing), Jillie Grant (3.843, accounting), Gretchen Kuckkan (4.00, elementary education and complementary math) and Bella Ravotto (3.935, earned bachelor's in health care leadership, currently enrolled in health administration master's program) all received recognition. Three of those four picked up another academic award when the MVC unveiled its Scholar-Athlete teams, as Kuckkan and Ravotto earned spots on the Scholar-Athlete First Team, while Grant was an Honorable Mention Scholar-Athlete choice.