Valparaiso (8-5, 0-0 MVC)
Friday, Sept. 22 - Missouri State (6-6, 0-0 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 23 - Southern Illinois (8-3, 0-0 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 26 - UIC (9-4, 0-0 MVC) - 6 p.m.
Next Up For Valpo Volleyball: Missouri Valley Conference play opens up for the Valpo volleyball team with a flurry of home matches at the ARC, as the Beacons take the floor three times in a five-day span.
The MVC slate kicks off against Missouri State Friday evening, with head coach Carin Avery being honored prior to the match in recognition of her breaking Valpo Athletics' all-time wins record last weekend. Homecoming festivities continue Saturday night against Southern Illinois, with the 20-year reunion of the 2003 team which won the Mid-Continent Conference regular season and tournament titles. The stretch of matches closes Tuesday evening against UIC.
Previously: Valpo went 2-1 in its final nonconference tournament of the season at the Purdue Fort Wayne Invitational, falling in four sets to SIUE before rebounding with decisive sweeps of both Miami (Ohio) and Purdue Fort Wayne.
Looking Ahead: The always challenging Valley schedule continues next weekend with the first road trip of conference play, as the Beacons head to UNI and Drake.
Following the Beacons: All three matches will be broadcast live on ESPN+. Links for the live video and live stats are available via ValpoAthletics.com.
Head Coach Carin Avery: In her 22nd season as head coach at Valparaiso, Carin Avery has won 479 matches (479-233, .673) 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 534-257 (.675) record overall as a head coach.
Series History: Missouri State - The Bears hold a 10-4 advantage in the all-time series, including an 8-4 mark since Valpo joined the Valley. Last season, MSU earned a 3-0 win in Springfield in the lone meeting between the two sides - a matchup which two Valpo regulars missed due to illness. Emma Hickey had a match-high 22 digs in that contest.
Southern Illinois - Valpo is 9-5 all-time against the Salukis, including a commanding 9-2 series lead since joining the Valley. The Beacons have won the last four in the series, including a four-set win in Carbondale in last season's lone meeting. Valpo outblocked SIU 13-2 in that win, highlighted by seven rejections apiece by Miranda Strongman and Gretchen Kuckkan.
UIC - Valpo owns a 31-27 overall record against the most-common opponent in program history and is a commanding 22-8 against the Flames under Coach Avery. But it was UIC which earned victories in all three meetings last season in the two programs' first matchups as MVC foes.
Scouting the Opposition: Missouri State - The Bears come into MVC play with a 6-6 overall record, most recently taking two of three at their home tournament last weekend with wins over Lindenwood and Western Illinois and a loss to Arkansas State. Azyah Green leads the team in both hitting percentage (.291) and blocks/set (1.02), while Teagan Polcovich averages a team-best 4.91 digs/set.
Southern Illinois - The Salukis enter the weekend with an 8-3 overall record and own the best nonconference winning percentage in the Valley. SIU won both of its matches in the Saluki Invitational last weekend, taking down UT Martin and Oakland. Nataly Garcia averages a team-high 3.15 kills/set, while Imany Hartfield hits at a .384 clip.
UIC - The Flames, who will also take on MSU and SIU before Tuesday's match, are 9-4 through nonconference action, including wins over Northwestern and Loyola and a loss to DePaul last weekend. Martina Delucchi boasts 3.64 kills/set and Ayat Amin 3.28 kills/set, while Becca Oldendorf hits at a .460 clip - 11th nationally - with 2.29 kills/set.
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.
Top of the Charts: With Valpo's win over Purdue Fort Wayne to close out last weekend's action, head coach Carin Avery owns 479 wins at the helm of the Valpo volleyball program, surpassing Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame member Emory Bauer for the most wins by a Valpo head coach across all sports in department history.
Bauer amassed his victories over three different sports, collecting 361 wins in 28 seasons as head coach of the baseball program, 109 victories in 22 years guiding the football team and eight wins in one season as men’s basketball head coach.
Avery’s record total, meanwhile, has obviously come all at the helm of the Valpo volleyball program. In her 22nd season as head coach, Avery’s teams have averaged better than 22 wins per year in her first 21 years guiding the program. Valpo has finished with a winning record 19 times and has posted 20 or more victories 17 times. Under Avery, Valpo has posted the six winningest seasons in program history, including a program-best 29 wins in 2004.
Celebrating the 2003 Team: Saturday night's match will feature the 20-year reunion of the 2003 Valpo squad. The 2003 team posted a 27-8 overall record, setting a then-program record for wins in a season, and won the program's first outright Mid-Continent Conference regular season title with a 13-1 Mid-Con record. They went on to win the Mid-Con Tournament as well and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. That year's team featured three major Mid-Con award winners - Cyndi Norman, Setter of the Year; Sara Silcox, Defensive Player of the Year; Carin Avery, Coach of the Year.
Back Home Again: Valpo returns home to the ARC this weekend for the first time since Sept. 2, looking to defend the home court as it has done so well over the past few years. With wins in their first three home matches this season, the Beacons are now 29-9 at the ARC since the start of the spring 2021 season - good for a .763 winning percentage.
All-Tournament Team Honorees: Six different Valpo players combined for nine All-Tournament Team selections in the season's first four weekends:
Purdue Fort Wayne Invitational - Emma Hickey, Mallory Januski
Stacheville Challenge - Januski, Miranda Strongman
Popcorn Classic - Bella Ravotto (MVP), Olivia Blackketter, Januski
EIU Volleyball Invitational - Strongman, Sam Warren
Three Times the Fun: Parse the above list and you'll see senior middle Mallory Januski picking up a trio of All-Tournament Team honors this season. It is the first time a Valpo player has earned spots on three All-Tournament teams in the same season since Allison Ketcham did so in 2018. But, one of Ketcham's honors came in the postseason at the MVC Tournament - Januski is the first Valpo player in the Carin Avery era to receive three All-Tournament Team spots from solely early-season, preconference tournaments.
Swinging Away: Januski has been on an absolute tear on the attack recently for the Beacons. At last weekend's Purdue Fort Wayne Invitational, the senior led Valpo with 27 kills on just 50 swings, hitting at a .480 clip - highlighted by 10 kills on .643 hitting in the sweep of Miami. Over Valpo's last eight matches, Januski has hit at least .350 in seven of them, putting down 70 kills on .459 hitting over those seven contests with a kill percentage of 51.9%. Januski smashed Valpo's single-season hitting percentage last year at .353 and is outpacing that mark this year, entering Valley play swinging at a .385 clip - good for second among MVC players.
Yahtzee, Again: It might not have been as dramatic as the first time she accomplished the feat this year, but fifth-year middle Miranda Strongman made her mark on Valpo's record book yet again as she posted five service aces in a single match for the second time this season, doing so again Sept. 16 versus Miami. That mark again ties the program record for aces in a match in the 25-point era, making her one of just three players with multiple five-ace matches in this era, joining Ariel Cudney and Rachel Bruinsma. The first time Strongman tallied five aces this year, all of them came in a six-point span to close out a sweep of ULM Aug. 26.
Chasing Milestones: A pair of Beacons are closing in on back-row milestones as MVC play begins. After tallying 55 digs last weekend at the Purdue Fort Wayne Invitational, sophomore libero Emma Hickey owns 937 career digs, leaving her 63 away from becoming the 24th player in Valpo volleyball history with 1,000 career digs. Meanwhile, fifth-year outside Bella Ravotto is up to 1,423 digs for her career - a mark which ranks 35th among active D-I players - and is just 53 digs shy of cracking Valpo's career top-10 in the category.
A Balanced Attack: Last year's Valpo team was notable for its balance on the attack, and this year's squad has been no different. Bella Ravotto's 2.47 kills/set leads the Beacons, but ranks just 24th overall among Valley players. Five regulars are averaging between 1.77 and 2.47 kills/set through the season's first 13 matches.
Capturing Crowns: The Beacons' triumph in the Popcorn Classic added yet another crown to the program's trophy case. Valpo has now won 34 in-season tournament titles in head coach Carin Avery's time at the helm of the program. The team has won at least one tournament in 17 of her seasons, and multiple tournaments 11 times. Those tournament titles have come in 14 different states.
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.
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.