Valparaiso capped off one of the most impressive weekends in program history Sunday afternoon by rallying from a first-set loss to Notre Dame to defeat the Fighting Irish, 3-1 (22-25, 25-17, 30-28, 25-23). The win, Valpo’s second in the last five years over the Irish in the Joyce Center, finished off an undefeated run through the Shamrock Invitational for the tournament title.
The win was Valpo’s first over the Irish since the 2004 campaign and just the second victory for the Crusaders over Notre Dame in Valpo’s Division I history. It was also just the sixth loss by the Fighting Irish in 41 matches all-time in the Shamrock Invitational.
“This was a huge win for our program today,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “Anytime, in any sport, we can get a win over Notre Dame, it is great in terms of regional and local name recognition. Today was a total team effort, and I really think that the way all 13 players pushed each other through the preseason helped get us to the level that we played at today to win the match.”
The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead in the opening set, but found the edge quickly erased by the hosts, who took their first lead at 9-8. The Fighting Irish would not relinquish the lead the remainder of the set, and extended their advantage to as many as six points at 21-15. Valpo fought off three set points to cut the deficit to two at 24-22, but an attack error gave Notre Dame the first set.
But, just as they did Saturday night in defeating IPFW, the Crusaders bounced right back from a loss in the opener. This time, Valpo put together a massive run mid-set, as with the score 9-7, the Crusaders reeled off a 9-2 spurt to go ahead 18-9 and, in the process, forcing Notre Dame to use both of its timeouts. The lead swelled to as many as ten points, and Val Bollenbacher (Bremen, Ind./Bremen) tallied the last three kills of the set for the Crusaders to even the match at one set apiece heading into the in-game break.
A classic third set was next on the slate, as the two squads fought thru 15 ties and six lead changes. It was the Crusaders taking an early four-point edge at 9-5, buoyed by back-to-back service aces from Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South). Valpo still held a four-point edge at 12-8 before the Irish came storming back, scoring 12 of the next 17 points to go ahead by a 20-17 count and forcing the Crusaders to use both timeouts.
But Valpo wouldn’t give in to the homestanding Irish, racking up four of the next five points, capping the run on a setter dump by Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West), to knot the set up at 21 and set up an intense final sequence. After the teams traded sideouts, Porché registered a kill to give Valpo a 23-22 edge, and an Irish attack error provided the Crusaders with two set points.
The Irish came up with a kill by Christina Kaelin, followed by a block from Kellie Sciacca and Kristen Delay, to fight off the first two Crusader set points. A service error followed to give Valpo a third opportunity, but again it was Kaelin with a kill to tie the set at 25. Porché came through with another termination for a fourth set point, but this time it was Dealy registering the critical kill.
A solo block from Sciacca gave Notre Dame its first set point of the frame at 27-26, but the Crusader block made its presence known, as Porché combined with Allison Sears (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) for a block to tie the set at 27. Serenity Phillips tallied a kill on the next play to give the Irish another chance to take a two sets to one advantage, but Bukowski found Sears in the middle for the 28-28 tie.
On the 15th tie of the set, the Crusaders avoided the side-out for the first time since they had the 24-22 lead, as Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) set up Sears to give Valparaiso a fifth opportunity at taking the critical set. Notre Dame got two offensive attacks on the next point, but first Bollenbacher and then Porché came up with critical digs, and Pokorny fed Bollenbacher for the deciding kill to give Valpo the 2-1 edge.
“Obviously, the third game was huge,” said Avery. “We had a few chances to win, and then Notre Dame had a couple of opportunities. I have to give credit to our players for sticking with it in an intense atmosphere and coming up with big plays on both sides of the ball late in the set to give us the win.”
The Crusaders still had one more set to win if they wanted to come out victorious, and it would not come easily. Valpo held the advantage through the first half of the set, going into the media timeout ahead 15-12, but the Irish responded with a 7-1 run out of the media break to go ahead 19-16.
Again, Bollenbacher came up with a couple key kills, which combined with two Notre Dame attack errors pushed the score back in the Crusaders’ favor at 20-19. The Irish tied up the set at 20 and 21, but two straight Sears kills followed to give Valpo a 23-21 advantage. Notre Dame responded with a kill by Phillips and a block to tie the set at 23, forcing Valpo to use its final timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Crusaders got a perfect pass on serve receive from Haley Wise (Mishawaka, Ind./Mishawaka) and Bukowski hit Sears in the middle for the easy kill to give the Crusaders championship point. An attack error by Kaelin finished out the match, as Valpo won the fourth set 25-23 and the match, three sets to one.
“Winning that third set was obviously really key for us,” said Avery. “Not only because it put us ahead two sets to one, but also because in that fourth set, which was also played back and forth, it took some pressure off of us. We weren’t the ones who had to win the set to keep the match going, and I think that helped us.”
The standout offensively for the Crusaders was the Shamrock Invitational MVP in Porché. The junior racked up 26 kills, tied for fifth-most in a four-set match in Valpo history, and hit at a .259 clip. She also added ten digs for her third consecutive double-double. Bollenbacher and Sears each finished with 13 kills apiece, both hitting better than .250 as well, while Bollenbacher also contributed ten digs.
Bukowski stood out on both sides of the ball for the Crusaders, picking up a career-high 15 digs on the back line, while dishing out 49 assists and also chipping in three kills offensively. Brittany Malicoat (Elkhart, Ind./Memorial) tallied a match-high 24 digs, while Andrea Balsis (Benton Harbor, Mich./Coloma) posted six digs and gave the Irish trouble with a number of her serves. The blocking was paced by Jill Meyer (Crystal Lake, Ill./South) and Tara Newton (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), who each posted three rejections.
Notre Dame (2-1) was led by Kaelin offensively, who registered 13 kills while swinging at a scorching .480 clip. But Dealy, who tallied ten kills, was the only other Irish player in double figures in the category, as Valpo out-killed Notre Dame by a 65-50 margin. The Irish did pick up 16 total blocks to the Crusaders’ five, paced by eight rejections from Tara Enzweiler.
Porché was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after tallying 57 kills, an average of 5.18 kills/set, on .290 hitting for the tournament. She also posted 35 digs over the three matches, finishing all three contests with double-doubles, to go along with eight service aces. Porché was joined on the All-Tournament squad by Malicoat, who registered 51 digs on the tournament, and Sears, who recorded 32 kills and five blocks.
“I’m excited most of all today for our senior class: Jill, Brittany and Allison,” concluded Avery. “You want each of your players to have a win that is one they can remember for a long time after they’re done playing, and those three really deserve a win like this for all the hard work they’ve put in over the last four years.”
Valparaiso (3-0) faces another tough slate next weekend at the adidas Classic in Bloomington, Ind. The host Hoosiers await the Crusaders at 11:30 a.m. CDT on Friday, followed by Louisville at 4:30 p.m. The tournament closes out with Wake Forest Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. You can listen to all three matches on WVUR, 95.1 FM, Valparaiso, or catch live audio and stats online at www.valpoathletics.com.