Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
at EIU Volleyball Invitational (Charleston, Ill.)
Friday, Aug. 25 - vs. Akron (0-0) - 10 a.m.
at Eastern Illinois (0-0) - 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 26 - vs. ULM (0-0) - 11 a.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: Coming off of its third postseason appearance in the last five years last season, the Valpo volleyball team kicks off the 2023 campaign this weekend at the EIU Volleyball Invitational presented by Unique Suites. The Beacons will be taking on Akron and ULM in addition to the host Panthers.
Looking Ahead: Valpo will once again host the Popcorn Classic at the ARC Sept. 1-2, welcoming Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Oakland to town for the two-day, six-match event.
Following the Beacons: All three of Valpo's matches this weekend will be broadcast live on ESPN+. Links for the live video and live stats will be available at ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 22nd season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 471 matches (471-228, .674) at the helm of the program and has led Valpo to three league regular season and tournament titles. The program has made seven 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 60 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 526-252 (.676) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Akron - The Zips hold a 5-4 edge in the all-time series, but eight of those nine matchups occurred in 1992 or earlier. The two squads did meet last season in Akron, a 3-1 Valpo victory on Sept. 9. Bella Ravotto had 13 kills, 12 digs and four blocks in that win, while Emma Hickey led all players with 25 digs.
Eastern Illinois - Valpo trails the all-time series against the Panthers 13-6, but the vast majority of those meetings came in the 1980s and 1990s, including a stint when both programs were in the Mid-Continent Conference. Valpo has won both of the recent matchups, defeating EIU in the ARC in 2017, 3-1, and following the next year with a 3-1 win as part of the Panther Invitational.
ULM - First meeting
Scouting the Opposition: Akron - The Zips are coming off a 2022 season where they posted a 6-23 overall record and were 3-15 in MAC play, finishing in fifth place in the East division.
Eastern Illinois - The Panthers went 10-8 in OVC action last season and were 16-16 overall. EIU received two first-place votes in this year's OVC preseason poll and were picked to finish fourth in the 11-team conference.
ULM - The Warhawks went 7-25 overall in 2022, but were 0-16 in Sun Belt Conference play. ULM was selected seventh in the West division in the SBC preseason poll this year.
Valpo Picked Sixth in Preseason Poll: Valpo has been picked to finish in sixth place in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2023, according to preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. The Beacons accumulated 73 points in the polling to come in at sixth position, outpacing Illinois State by two points. UNI claimed seven of 12 first-place votes and nipped Drake by two points for the top spot in the poll.
Looking Back at Last Season: The Beacons enjoyed another successful season in 2022, finishing the campaign with a 22-11 overall record. Valpo posted a 9-9 mark in MVC play to finish in sixth place in the newly-expanded 12-team conference and won a match at the MVC Tournament for its fourth straight appearance. The Beacons earned an at-large bid to the 2022 NIVC, their third showing in the tournament in the last five seasons. After a record-setting rookie campaign, freshman libero Emma Hickey was named a Second Team All-MVC and MVC All-Freshman Team honoree.
What's Back: Valpo returns plenty of experience from last year's squad, as 11 letterwinners are back this year, including four starters plus the libero. In all, 98% of the assists, 89.3% of the digs, 62.7% of the blocks and 60.9% of the kills from last season are back in 2023.
Who's New: Joining the 11 returnees on this year's team are six players looking to make an impact in their first season as Valpo. The sextet includes four true freshmen and two transfers - one fifth-year grad transfer and one sophomore.
Another 20-Win Campaign: It's a milestone that has become routine for the program, yet still impressive in its totality - Valpo finished with 22 wins in 2022 and 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 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 as they finished in sixth place in the 12-team conference. 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 in 2022. 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.
Digging Deep: Valpo continued its long tradition of strong back row play last fall, finishing 10th nationally and leading the MVC with 17.27 digs/set. The program has ranked among the top-30 nationally in digs/set in each of the last 12 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.
Capturing Crowns: Valpo is looking to extend an impressive streak as the 2023 season gets underway this weekend. The Beacons have won five consecutive in-season tournaments dating back to the 2021 season, a mark which includes an program-record four in-season tournament titles last season. Valpo has 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.
Conference Honoree: With as balanced as last year's squad was, 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.
Hickey Sets New Standards: Emma Hickey made an immediate impact on Valpo’s backcourt and the record books in her rookie season. She set Valpo and MVC freshman record for digs in a season, finishing with 735 total digs, and led the Valley and ranked fourth nationally with 5.70 digs/set. No D-I freshman was within 200 digs of her season total, while it was tied for the second-most digs by a D-I freshman in the last 12 seasons. Her 735 digs are tied for fourth overall on Valpo’s single-season chart and rank sixth in MVC history as well.
Januski Runs the Middle: Senior middle Mallory Januski bided her time behind a pair of All-Conference middles in her first two seasons at Valpo, but given the opportunity in 2022 to run with a starting role, Januski took full advantage. She led Valpo and ranked fourth in the Valley with a .353 hitting percentage, a mark which smashed the program's single-season record. Januski also ranked seventh in the Valley with 0.98 blocks/set, tallying 122 total blocks — seventh-most by a Valpo player in the 25-point era. That total includes a monster 13-block performance at Murray State, a program record for the 25-point era.
One More Year: Three Valpo players are taking advantage of the additional season of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to play a fifth year of collegiate volleyball, but each of the three are at a different point in their Valpo journey. Bella Ravotto has spent all five years at the ARC, while Miranda Strongman is on her second season as a Beacon after playing three seasons at LIU. Most recently, Laura Ilizastigui joined the program as a graduate transfer for this season after spending two years apiece at Chicago State and the College of Southern Idaho.