The Valpo volleyball team kicked off the 2023 Popcorn Classic at the ARC Friday with a pair of victories, defeating Western Illinois 3-0 (25-19, 25-17, 25-18) in the tournament opener Friday morning before coming back in the evening and twice overcoming one-set deficits for a 3-2 (23-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-14, 15-6) victory over Eastern Michigan. In the latter match, senior middle Mallory Januski (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) posted the third-best hitting percentage in a five-set match in program history.
How It Happened – Western Illinois
- The Leathernecks controlled the opening portion of the first set, as approaching the halfway mark in the set, they extended their lead to five points at 11-6.
- It didn’t take Valpo long to erase the deficit, however, as the Beacons scored nine of the next 12 points to take their first lead of the set at 15-14. After a WIU kill, a trio of kills pushed Valpo’s edge to 18-15.
- WIU came back with three points in a row to even the set once again at 18-18, but it was the Beacons with the final push of the frame, going on a 7-1 run to close the opener and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
- It was all Valpo to start the second set, as four different players registered kills as part of a 7-2 spurt to open the set.
- The Beacons further extended their lead out to eight points at 14-6, and the Leathernecks got no closer than five points the rest of the way as Valpo claimed a 2-0 lead in the match.
- It looked early like the third set might mirror the second set, as Valpo opened with four of the first five points. But WIU came back to make the first half of the frame a back-and-forth struggle, with seven ties and four lead changes.
- The Leathernecks led as late as 11-10 and the score was still tied at 13-all before a 9-2 Valpo run — including two kills and a block from Januski — gave the Beacons breathing room en route to the sweep.
How It Happened – Eastern Michigan
- EMU led from the start of the opening set, and while Valpo was able to tie the score five times in the first half of the set, the Beacons were never able to claim the outright lead.
- Valpo did make it interesting late, however. Trailing 22-18, junior Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) had a kill and combined with Januski on a block during a three-point spurt which made it a one-point margin.
- EMU came back with back-to-back points to earn set point at 24-21, but Valpo extended the set on two occasions thanks to kills from redshirt sophomore Sam Warren (Kentland, Ind./South Newton) and senior Olivia Blackketter (Bloomington, Ind./Bloomington South [Winthrop]). On the third chance, however, EMU closed out with a kill to take the 1-0 lead in the match.
- The final score of the second set was not indicative of how tightly it was contested, as it featured 12 ties and six lead changes.
- EMU held a three-point lead just past the halfway mark at 14-11 before Valpo scored three in a row — two of which were kills from fifth-year Miranda Strongman (Wolverine Lake, Mich./Walled Lake Central [LIU]) — to tie it up at 14-14.
- The two teams were tied at every point from 14-14 through 18-18, a string finally broken when fifth-year Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) recorded back-to-back kills to jump-start a 7-1 run to close the set. Swistek and freshman Kennedy Arp (Byron Center, Mich./South Christian) combined on a block on set point to close out the frame and level the match at a set apiece.
- The third set appeared to be Valpo’s to take control of early, as the Beacons jumped out to a quick 8-4 lead. But EMU kept chipping away, with Valpo’s last four-point lead coming at 10-6, its last three-point lead at 12-9 and its last two-point lead at 13-11.
- Trailing 13-11, the Eagles scored five of the next six points to jump in front. Valpo did tie the score once later in the set at 19-19, just to see EMU score six of the final eight points to go up 2-1 in the match.
- Valpo scored the first four points of the fourth set and would never trail in the frame. EMU, which hit just -.083 for the set, did close to within 11-10 with a five-point spurt.
- At that point, the experienced veteran stepped up, as Ravotto tallied kills for each of Valpo’s next three points during a 5-1 stretch which pushed the Beacons’ lead to five points. Valpo cruised from there to force the decisive final set.
- Playing a fifth set for the second time this year, Valpo made sure this time would not be like the last time, as Warren and Ravotto picked up kills in a 3-0 start to the frame.
- EMU got to within 4-3 before Januski notched three kills as part of a 5-1 spurt which extended the Beacons’ lead to five points. Valpo’s lead never dropped below four points the rest of the way, and redshirt sophomore Addy Kois (Osceola, Ind./Penn) served out the final four points of the match, the last of which was a kill by Swistek to close things out.
Inside the Matches
- Valpo sits at 2-0 through the first day of tournament action. Oakland is 1-0 after a four-set win over Eastern Michigan Friday afternoon, while WIU is 0-1 and EMU is 0-2.
- In search of its eighth tournament championship in 12 early-season home tournaments under the guidance of head coach Carin Avery, Valpo sits in the driver’s seat heading into Saturday. Friday’s pair of wins improves the program’s record to 34-5 in home tournaments during Avery’s tenure.
- The Beacons got contributions up and down the lineup for the come-from-behind win Friday evening over the Eagles, as five players tallied at least eight kills and five posted at least 12 digs.
- Among the highlights was the offensive production of Januski, who hit a sizzling .591 in the victory. The senior tallied 14 kills while committing just one error on 22 swings.
- Januski’s hitting percentage against EMU was the program’s third-best in a five-set match all-time, trailing just a .607 mark from Peyton McCarthy in a 2021 win over Tennessee Tech and a .739 effort from Nicole Schulz in a 2007 win over UIC.
- It was the 10th time in Januski’s Valpo career she has finished in double figures in kills, while she also contributed a team-best five blocks to help down the Eagles.
- Ravotto led the offense with 16 kills in the win over EMU, as Valpo is now 6-0 all-time when she racks up at least 15 terminations. She recorded 18 digs as well for her 24th career double-double.
- That came after a team-best effort in the morning win over WIU, where Ravotto hit .421 with a team-high nine kills and nine digs despite playing just two sets.
- Swistek’s match-ending kill against the Eagles was number 15 of the evening for the junior, matching her career best. She posted a double-double as well, finishing with 14 digs versus EMU after coming up with 10 in the morning sweep of WIU.
- Strongman chipped in nine kills on .368 hitting against EMU, while Warren came up one off her career best with eight kills in the win.
- As a whole, the Valpo offense posted 70 kills in the win over the Eagles and held a +22 advantage. It was the program’s highest output in the kills department since recording 71 last season on Oct. 1 at Bradley, and its highest advantage in the category since being +24 in its win at Youngstown State last Aug. 27.
- Both of Valpo’s setters picked up double-doubles in the EMU win as well. Senior Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) owns 35 career double-doubles after a 25-assist, 13-dig effort, while Kois totaled 28 assists and 12 digs as Valpo improved to 7-0 when she hits a double-double.
- The Beacons rotated through all three of the setters on their roster in the morning sweep of the Leathernecks, with freshman Mara Thomas (Bogart, Ga./Athens Academy) leading the way in that win with 11 assists.
- Sophomore Emma Hickey (Granger, Ind./Penn) split time between outside hitter and libero in the WIU match, tallying a match-high 12 digs to go with six kills and five assists. Junior Abby Boyle (Byron Center, Ind./Byron Center) donned the libero jersey for the final two sets against the Leathernecks and reached double figures in digs for the third time in her career, finishing with 10 digs.
- Hickey came back with a match-high 24 digs to go with seven assists in the EMU victory.
- Arp enjoyed a strong match in the morning win, posting six kills and a match-high four blocks.
- Valpo’s defense limited Western Illinois to .054 hitting for the match in the sweep. Over the two matches, the Beacons’ opponents hit under .100 in five of eight sets.
Valpo (4-2) goes for the Popcorn Classic title on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. when it takes on Oakland live on ESPN+. Earlier in the day, WIU and Oakland will face off at 10 a.m., while EMU and WIU will play at 2 p.m.