With the 2003 Valpo volleyball team in town for its 20-year reunion to celebrate its Mid-Continent Conference championship, the 2023 version of the Beacons did their predecessors proud on Saturday night at the ARC with a three-set sweep (25-21, 26-24, 25-19) of Southern Illinois to close out a perfect Homecoming weekend.
How It Happened
- Valpo never trailed in the opening set, as sophomore Emma Hickey (Granger, Ind./Penn) sandwiched a service ace between kills from junior Elise Swistek (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) for the first three points of what ended up being a 5-0 run to start the match.
- The Salukis did rally to even the set on two occasions, at 11-11 and 12-12, but the Beacons strung together four straight points — including a service ace from fifth-year outside Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) — after the latter tie to take the lead for good.
- SIU cut the lead to one point once after that point and was still within two as late as 23-21, but a kill by fifth-year middle Miranda Strongman (Wolverine Lake, Mich./Walled Lake Central [LIU]) and a Saluki attack error closed the opener in Valpo’s favor.
- SIU held the early edge in the second set and pushed its lead to as many as five points at 11-6. But that second frame ended up featuring 11 tie scores, as Valpo put together a 6-1 run — featuring three kills by senior Mallory Januski (Bourbonnais, Ill./Bradley-Bourbonnais) — to turn a 13-10 deficit into a 16-14 lead and set the stage for a battle to the finish.
- The two squads were tied at each point from 17-17 to 20-20 before the Beacons scored back-to-back points to regain their multi-point lead. A pair of sideouts followed on each side to give Valpo set point at 24-22, but the Salukis held off both chances to force extra points. That just delayed the inevitable, however, as Januski tallied yet another kill to earn a third set point chance at 25-24 and an SIU error gave Valpo a 2-0 lead in the match.
- Much like the first set, the combination of Hickey’s serve and Swistek’s kills got Valpo out to a strong start to the third frame. Swistek had back-to-back early terminations as Valpo scored the first four points, and after the Salukis picked up their first point of the set, senior Victoria Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) stepped back to the service line during a 5-0 run as the Beacons led 9-1 early.
- While Valpo never relinquished the lead, the meaty advantage was sliced almost to the bone, with SIU rallying with 10 of the next 14 points to close to within 13-11. A kill from Strongman started a three-point spurt, though, and Valpo’s lead never fell below three points the rest of the way as it finished the sweep.
Inside the Match
- As mentioned in the lede, the 2003 team was back on campus for the 20-year anniversary of its Mid-Con title and the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history, a season which kick-started one of the most impressive three-year stretches by any sport in Valpo Athletics history. Between sets two and three, the members of that squad who were in attendance were honored in an on-court ceremony.
- Much like Friday evening’s hard-fought win over Missouri State, the highlight of Saturday was the offensive performance of the Beacons’ middles. In fact, both Januski and Strongman would have set season bests in the kills department Saturday had it not been for their respective Friday stat lines.
- Januski led all players with a 15-kill night, doing so on just 23 swings and hitting at a .522 clip. The senior, who also paced Valpo with three blocks, hit above .500 for the fourth time this year and is now sitting at a .401 hitting percentage on the season.
- Januski posted at least 15 terminations in both of the weekend’s contests after entering the weekend with just one career match of at least 15 kills.
- Meanwhile, Strongman finished the sweep with 11 kills on 18 swings, hitting .556. It was the fifth time this season Strongman has hit .500 or better.
- Swistek added nine kills as well as Valpo enjoyed a 44-36 edge in kills over SIU and hit .212 to the Salukis’ .147.
- The Beacons are a perfect 10-0 this year when finishing with more kills than their opponent and have won 35 such matches in a row dating back to Oct. 30, 2021.
- In Valpo wins this season, its opponents are hitting .132, versus a .287 clip in losses.
- Bulmahn handed out a match-high 19 assists with a strong .463 setting percentage and redshirt sophomore Addy Kois (Osceola, Ind./Penn) added 18 assists, leaving her just 44 assists shy of 1,000 career helpers.
- For the fifth consecutive match, Hickey led all players in digs, picking up 13 on Saturday. She will enter Tuesday’s contest just 16 digs shy of becoming the 24th player in Valpo history with 1,000 career digs.
- Ravotto tallied 10 digs as well, the eighth time this season she has been in double digits in the category, to push her career total to 1,452 digs, just 24 shy of the program’s career top-10.
- Saturday’s win improved the Beacons’ home record to 5-0 this season.
- It is Valpo’s first 2-0 start to MVC play since the 2018 team opened conference play with four straight wins.
Valpo (10-5, 2-0 MVC) goes for three wins in five days at home to open Valley action on Tuesday evening when it takes on UIC at 6 p.m., live on ESPN+.