Playing its final home non-conference match of the season, Valparaiso took care of business Tuesday night against Missouri Valley foe Bradley, downing the Braves in three straight games, 30-17, 30-22, 30-19.
“This was another good match for us to find our groove as a team,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I’m proud of the way we handled the ball tonight, because that was something that we struggled with last weekend, and it was good to see us get back to the way that we should be playing in that area of the game.”
The Crusaders were never threatened in the opening game, forcing Bradley to use an early timeout at 11-5 and never letting the Braves get any closer from there. Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) each had four kills in the opener, while Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) tallied four aces from the service line.
Game two was a different story, as Bradley jumped out to as much as a four-point lead before Valpo rallied. With the Braves holding a slim 21-20 advantage, the Crusaders put together a 9-0 run to take control of the game, highlighted by three kills from Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South). Game three was similar in style, as the Braves held a 15-13 lead halfway through. Valpo put its foot down from there, giving up just four points the rest of the way while scoring 17 of its own to close out the match. Bollenbacher registered seven kills in the game, including five in the 17-4 Crusader run.
Bollenbacher led the Crusaders in kills for the second time this season, putting down 14 balls on a .435 hitting percentage. Porché posted 13 terminations of her own while hitting .370, and Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) registered nine kills on .350 hitting. The three paced a Valpo offense that hit .324 for the match, the fifth time this year that the Brown and Gold has hit at least .300.
Running the Crusader offense was the reigning U.S. Army Horizon League Scholar-Athlete of the Week, setter Sara Hughes (San Antonio, Texas/Perrysburg [Ohio] H.S.). Hughes dished out 42 assists, the 47th time over the past two seasons that she has reached double figures in the assist column.
Malicoat led Valpo for the 56th consecutive match in digs, picking up 18 in the contest, and also ended the match with six service aces, tied for the third-most in a three-game match in Crusader history. Porché added four aces as Valpo tallied 12 aces as a team, the fifth time this season the Crusaders have reached double figures in service aces. Pacing the Valpo defense at the net was freshman Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) with five blocks.
“I thought both Brittany and Sara did an outstanding job for us tonight,” said Avery. “Brittany had another stellar night picking up balls on the back line, as she has all season long. Sara has been setting a nice game for us all year, which is one of the reasons our hitting percentage has been so high [.262, pacing the Horizon League by 44 points].”
Valpo held a significant 51-32 edge over Bradley (1-14) in kills, and also easily outpaced the Braves in digs, 51-35. The Crusaders have out-dug each of their 14 opponents on the season, and have only been bested in kills on two occasions.
Valparaiso (11-3) turns its sights back to the Horizon League this weekend, hitting the road for two matches. The first match sees the Crusaders take on Wright State at 6 p.m. CDT on Friday, with all the action being carried live on WVUR, 95.1 FM, and online at www.valpo.edu/athletics.