Valparaiso (0-4, 0-0 MVC)
Game #5 - November 29, 2023 - 6 p.m. CT
at Western Michigan (2-3, 0-0 MAC)
University Arena (5,421) - Kalamazoo, Mich.
Next Up in Valpo Basketball: The Valpo women’s basketball team continues its long stretch between home games on Wednesday evening when the Beacons make the short trip to Kalamazoo, Mich. to take on Western Michigan.
Previously: Senior Leah Earnest set a career high in the scoring department with a game-high 26 points, while freshman Saniya Jackson became the second Beacon in the last week with an eight-steal game as Valpo concluded its extended Thanksgiving week trip with a 78-68 setback at UAB Saturday afternoon. Trailing by 17 in the third quarter, the Beacons went on a 17-3 run spanning the final two periods to cut the deficit to three points, but could get no closer.
Following Valpo Basketball: Streaming Video: ESPN+
Valpo Radio: None
Links for live coverage: Available via ValpoAthletics.com
Head Coach Mary Evans: Mary Evans is in her sixth year at the helm of the program in 2022-23 and owns a record of 55-95. Evans has made an impact on the program in her first four years, raising the team’s level of play to be competitive in a strong Missouri Valley Conference. The 2022-23 season saw Evans lead Valpo to the first win in program history over perennial MVC power Missouri State. The Beacons also won three consecutive road games in Valley play, the first time the program accomplished that feat against three different opponents since 2007.
Series Notes: Valpo and WMU match up for the 15th time in program history on Wednesday, with the Broncos currently owning a 10-4 lead in the all-time series. This is the fourth consecutive season the two teams have met on the hardwood. In last year’s matchup at the ARC, WMU led nearly the entire way en route to a 68-62 victory. Olivia Brown paced the Beacons in that game with 20 points, including a 4-of-5 mark from the 3-point line. Leah Earnest scored 12 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, while Ilysse Pitts contributed 11 points.
- Valpo was picked to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason poll, totaling 162 points, coming in ahead of Evansville and Bradley.
- Valpo is in its seventh season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference.
- The Valley was ranked 13th in conference NET last season. The MVC ranked 10th in conference NET in 2021-22, seventh in conference NET in 2020-21 and was eighth in conference RPI in 2019-20.
...looking back at last year
- Valpo finished last season with a 7-23 overall record and finished at 5-15 in MVC play, good for 11th in the Valley standings.
- The Beacons earned their first win in program history over perennial MVC power Missouri State.
- Valpo also won three consecutive road games in Valley play, the first time the program accomplished that feat against three different opponents since 2007.
- Ali Saunders was named to the MVC All-Freshman Team.
- Valpo trailed 21-18 at the end of the first quarter and 40-36 at halftime.
- UAB opened the third quarter on a 15-2 run to extend out to a 55-38 lead.
- The Beacons came back with a 17-3 run spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarters. Leah Earnest had 12 of Valpo’s 17 points during that spurt, which brought the Beacons back to within 58-55 with 7:05 remaining.
- The Blazers scored the next eight points, however, and Valpo got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
- Earnest poured in 26 points to easily surpass her previous career best of 20 points, set in last year’s season opener at Central Michigan.
- For the second time this season, a bushelful of Valpo steals contributed to a high turnover total for its opponent. The Beacons racked up 16 steals on Saturday, led by Saniya Jackson’s eight thefts, while the Blazers committed 23 turnovers in all — leading to 22 points off turnovers.
- UAB shot 59.6% from the field, however, to Valpo’s 39.3% clip. The Beacons did have the advantage behind the 3-point line, hitting 9-of-25 (36%) from downtown while UAB was just 4-of-14 (28.6%) from deep.
...at Southern Miss
- The Lady Eagles led 21-8 at the end of the first quarter and extended their lead to 26-9 early in the second period.
- The Beacons stepped up the defensive intensity to close the first half from that point, limiting the Lady Eagles to just three free throws as they went 0-for-9 from the field and committed nine turnovers in the final 8:39 of the half. Valpo ended the half on a 12-3 run to close to within 28-21 at intermission.
- Valpo got as close as five points multiple times in the third quarter, but couldn’t cut the deficit to one possession. Southern Miss closed the quarter on a 12-4 run to lead 48-35 with 10 minutes to play, and Valpo was unable to get any closer than the final margin in the fourth quarter.
- The Beacons held the Lady Eagles to 37.0% overall shooting from the field, 28.6% from the 3-point line and forced 19 turnovers.
- However, Valpo struggled to score on Tuesday, hitting just 27.3% from the floor and 20.0% from the 3-point line. The Beacons were 14-of-17 (82.4%) from the foul line.
- Jill Harris made it three straight games to start her Valpo career scoring in double figures, leading the way with 14 points to tie her career best.
- Olivia Brown scored all 13 of her points in the second half, including 7-of-7 from the foul line.
- Leah Earnest tallied 12 points and pulled down a game-best 12 rebounds to register her first double-double of the season.
- Valpo closes out its current four-game road stretch Sunday, Dec. 3 at Purdue.
- The Beacons then come back to the ARC for an exhibition game against IU Northwest Dec. 7 before taking on Chicago State Dec. 9.
...on the road
- Valpo will play 17 games away from home in the 2023-24 regular season, 16 of which will be true road games.
- The Beacons are 0-3 away from home so far this year and posted a 4-10 record in true road games last season.
- The Broncos come into Wednesday’s game with a 2-3 record this season, most recently falling to Campbell (70-61) and beating UNC Asheville (58-54) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- Wednesday’s game will be Western Michigan’s home opener this season.
- Kaitlyn Zarycki leads WMU, averaging 13.2 points/game to date this year, while Maggie Stutelberg averages 11 points/game on 45.7% shooting from the 3-point line.
Career Day for Earnest
- Senior Leah Earnest smashed her previous career high in the scoring column last time out at UAB, pouring in 26 points.
- Earnest’s previous career best was 20 points, set in last year’s season opener at Central Michigan.
- 12 of Earnest’s points came during a 17-3 Valpo run spanning the third and fourth quarters, which cut a 17-point deficit to three points.
- Earnest also surpassed her previous high for field goals made, tallying nine baskets, and matched her career best with three triples. She added a team-high six rebounds as well.
- Earnest has scored in double figures in each of Valpo’s first four games of the season and is averaging 15.3 points/game, eighth-best in the Valley. She also is averaging 7.8 rebounds/game, tied for seventh among Valley players, and is one of four players who ranks among the MVC’s top-10 in both scoring and rebounding.
I’ll Take That
- For the second time in the season’s first four games, the Beacons had a player rack up eight steals in a game last time out at UAB.
- This time, it was freshman Saniya Jackson coming off the bench to tally eight thefts - one in the first quarter, three in the second quarter and four in the fourth quarter.
- Jackson matched the feat of fellow rookie Raeven Raye-Redmond, who posted eight steals of her own in her collegiate debut against Western Illinois Nov. 18.
- Jackson and Raye-Redmond are two of just 15 D-I players nationally to record eight or more steals in a single game so far this season.
- The duo are now tied for second on Valpo’s single-game steals chart, just one off the program single-game record.
- Prior to this year, the last Valpo player to tally eight steals in a game was Jeanette Gray against Houston in the 2002 WNIT.
- Raye-Redmond was the first MVC player to record eight steals in a game since UNI’s Ellie Herzberg did so against Indiana State on Feb. 19, 2017.
Stealing It All
- Led by Raye-Redmond’s eight steals, Valpo tallied 18 total team steals Nov. 18 against Western Illinois.
- Leah Earnest (3) and Saniya Jackson (2) also registered multiple thefts, as eight Beacons in all recorded at least one steal.
- The 18 steals is the program’s best single-game mark since tallying 21 steals at Evansville on Jan. 12, 2020, and is tied for the second-highest output in Evans’ tenure as head coach.
- Last time out at UAB, paced by Jackson’s eight steals, Valpo racked up 16 team steals.
- Seven different players picked up at least one theft, with Olivia Brown setting her best mark in the Valpo uniform with a three-steal afternoon.
A Strong Defensive Performance
- The Beacons put together their best defensive performance of the young season last Tuesday night at Southern Miss.
- Southern Miss, which is the defending Sun Belt regular season champion, entered last Tuesday’s game averaging 85.3 points/game through their first three games, but Valpo limited the Lady Eagles to 61 points.
- It was the lowest point total by a Valpo opponent since limiting Indiana State to 47 points in the 54-47 road win over the Sycamores on Feb. 17 last season.
- The Beacons held the Lady Eagles to 37.0% overall shooting from the field, 28.6% from the 3-point line and forced 19 turnovers.
Another Strong Debut
- Raye-Redmond’s effort against WIU was the second straight strong collegiate debut by a Valpo player, as freshman Nevaeh Jackson enjoyed a nice start to her collegiate career in the season opener at Eastern Illinois.
- Jackson played 22 minutes off the bench at EIU, going 4-of-8 from the field - including 3-of-6 from 3-point range - for 11 points while also adding three rebounds and two assists.
- The 11 points is the best mark for a Valpo freshman in their first collegiate game since Bryce Blood scored 13 against IU Kokomo in the 2017-18 season opener.
- It is the best mark for a freshman in their first collegiate game against a D-I program since Dani Franklin kicked off her stellar career with 14 points in a win over Butler to start the 2014-15 season.
- Jackson went on to start at Southern Miss, the earliest a true freshman has started in her Valpo career since 2017-18.
The First Time
- Jackson was one of four Valpo players to take the floor in the Beacon uniform for the first time in the season opener at EIU.
- Twin sister Saniya Jackson made her collegiate debut and scored seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in 18 minutes off the bench.
- Freshman Kayla Preston made her mark on the glass, needing just 11 minutes to pull down five boards - tied for second-most on the team - while also scoring five points.
- Fifth-year Jill Harris began her first season at Valpo in the starting lineup, playing a team-high 33 minutes and finishing with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists.
- Six Beacons in all have made their Valpo debuts this season, with freshman Layla Gold also making her collegiate debut last time out versus Western Illinois, playing eight minutes and recording one point and two rebounds.
- After playing their home opener last Saturday against Western Illinois, the Beacons are in a stretch of becoming intimately familar with the road over the next couple months.
- Valpo will play nine games in a 10-game stretch away from home.
- Wednesday’s game at Western Michigan is the third of four consecutive true road games. Then, after hosting Chicago State Dec. 9, the Beacons play five more in a row away from home - including their first three games of the MVC slate.
- The Beacons return the majority of production from last year’s squad.
- Three of Valpo’s top four scorers from the 2022-23 season are back for the 2023-24 campaign.
- In all, Valpo returns 64.7% of its minutes played, 66.4% of its scoring and 72.1% of its rebounding from the 2022-23 team.
- This year’s squad features eight returnees from last year’s team.
- Headlining Valpo’s returnees is fifth-year guard Olivia Brown. The Beacons’ leading scorer last year at 12.0 points/game, Brown was one of the Valley’s top shooters, ranking third in the conference in 3-point percentage and sixth in 3-pointers/game.
- Brown enters the 2023-24 campaign just 75 points away from hitting 1,000 points for her collegiate career.
- Senior forward Leah Earnest took a leap forward last season, averaging 9.8 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game — the latter mark good for sixth in the Valley. Earnest was especially proficient on the defensive glass, with a defensive rebounding rate of 28.3% — 13th-best nationally among players with at least 100 defensive boards.
- Junior Olivia Sims was Valpo’s fourth-leading scorer last year, averaging 5.0 points/game.
- Senior Ava Interrante (4.1 ppg, 29 steals), senior Jayda Johnston (3.8 ppg), redshirt senior Emma Tecca (3.0 ppg), junior Katie Beyer (2.0 ppg) and redshirt sophomore Ella Van Weelden (1.6 ppg) all return as well for the 2023-24 season.
- Nearly half the Valpo roster is new to the program this season, with the vast majority of those newcomers true freshmen.
- The lone incoming transfer was fifth-year point guard Jill Harris. Harris most recently played one season at Johnson C. Smith. She was a SoCon All-Freshman Team selection as a rookie at Mercer in 2019-20 and helped the Bears to the NCAA Tournament in 2020-21.
- Valpo welcomes its first Indiana All-Star to the program since 2017, as Indianapolis native Layla Gold earned the prestigious honor last season.
- Gold is one of four All-State high school players new to the roster this season. Twins Nevaeh and Saniya Jackson, out of Northrop [Ind.] H.S., were both First Team All-State selections as seniors, while Raeven Raye-Redmond earned Second Team All-State honors out of Trotwood Madison [Ohio] H.S.
- Kayla Preston joins the Beacons as a true freshman as well after helping lead Millard North [Neb.] H.S. to a state semifinal appearance as a senior.