Valparaiso led league leader Milwaukee two games to none Friday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center, but the Panthers earned the 3-2 (27-30, 24-30, 30-23, 30-24, 15-8) come-from-behind victory over the Crusaders.
“You can say we competed hard against the number one team in the league, but it’s still a loss,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “It’s frustrating when you’re up two games at home and can’t find a way to win the match.”
The Crusaders trailed throughout most of game one and found themselves down 24-21 late in the set. But Valpo scored nine of the final 12 points in the opener, using four kills from Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) to go up one game. In the second game, the Crusaders took an 8-7 lead early and never looked back, leading the rest of the way to go up two games to none.
Valpo looked poised for the sweep in the third game, jumping out to a quick 9-5 advantage and forcing Milwaukee to use a timeout. But the Panthers would respond with a 17-4 spurt to take control and send the match to a fourth game. The Crusaders led most of the way through game four and had a seven-point edge at 14-7. But the Panthers clawed their way back into the game and took their first lead of the set at 20-19. The two squads were tied at 21 before Milwaukee scored nine of the final 12 points to send the match to a decisive game five.
In the finale, Valpo held an early 2-1 lead before Milwaukee took control, scoring 10 of the next 12 points, including five straight on the serve of Lauren Felsing. The Crusaders cut the lead late to six points at 14-8, forcing the Panthers to use a timeout, but Milwaukee would close out the match on the next point.
“The difference was Milwaukee’s two best players, #1 (Jamie Gabrielsen) and #2 (Leanne Felsing),” said Avery. “Those two had their games take off before the start of game three, and they were just unstoppable from that point on. Everything that was working for us in the first two games did not in the last three.”
The Crusaders were paced offensively by Porché, who tallied 20 kills. Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) added 19 and Nicole Schulz (Kewaskum, Wis./Kettle Moraine Lutheran) chipped in 16 kills on .297 hitting in her first match in over a month. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) handed out 33 assists, while Sara Hughes (San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg [Ohio] H.S.) dished out 31 helpers.
“It was so great to see Nicole back on the court,” said Avery. “It’s been a long time coming, and what a match for her to make her return in. It was tough for her stamina-wise, having not practiced in so long and coming right back in a five-game match, but she was definitely a breath of fresh air. Her presence allows us to run the 6-2 offense, which really helps out our blocking.”
The Crusaders out-dug Milwaukee, which entered the game third in the nation in digs/game, by a 98-91 margin. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) led all players with 32 digs, while Bollenbacher, Bukowski, Hughes and Porché all reached double figures to register double-doubles. Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) led the Crusaders at the net with five blocks as they tallied nine total team blocks.
“It was good to see us out-play Milwaukee, which is one of the best digging teams in the country, in that category,” said Avery. “We really did a good job keeping the ball in play and being aggressive on the back line.”
Milwaukee (22-2, 12-1 Horizon) was paced by 18 kills and 24 digs from Gabrielsen. Leanne Felsing added 13 kills, 31 assists and seven digs, while Lauren Felsing led the Panthers with 26 digs. Kelly Olson tallied 10 kills on .500 hitting and added a match-best nine blocks.
Valparaiso (16-8, 6-5 Horizon) closes out the 2007 home campaign Saturday evening at the ARC as the Crusaders host Green Bay. Prior to the match, Senior Day festivities will be held to honor Hughes, Tiffany Meikle (Cottage Grove, Wis./Monona Grove) and Schulz.