Valparaiso at Butler - Friday, Oct. 30 - 6 p.m. CDT
Oakland at Valparaiso - Saturday, Oct. 31 - 7 p.m.
This Week’s Action: Valparaiso concludes a four-match road trip with a key Horizon League showdown against third-place Butler before returning home to the ARC for the start of a four-match homestand against Oakland.
The Matchups: Valpo (17-7, 9-2) trails the all-time series against Butler (17-11, 7-4) by a 22-8 margin, but has turned the tables on the Bulldogs since joining the Horizon League, going 6-1 versus Butler over the last three seasons. Most recently, on Oct. 2 of this year, the Crusaders kicked off an eight-match winning streak with a sweep (25-21, 25-20, 25-23) of the Bulldogs at the ARC. Valpo hit .365 as a team in the sweep of the lone remaining undefeated team in league play, led by 16 kills on .400 hitting by Angie Porché and ten kills on .381 hitting from Katie Britton.
The Crusaders own a dominating 15-3 edge in the all-time series against Oakland (16-5), but the two squads have not met up since Valpo’s last year in the Mid-Continent Conference. In their last meeting, which occured at Oakland on Oct. 20, 2006, the Crusaders came out on top in a sweep (30-24, 30-28, 30-21). Val Bollenbacher led all players with 14 kills while hitting at a .310 clip, while Porché added 12 kills on .429 hitting. Brittany Malicoat paced all players on the back line with 16 digs.
Previously: Valpo started its four-match road swing last week with a trio of matches, winning in three at IUPUI, falling in four at Cleveland State and winning in three at Wright State. Katie Layman hit a team-best .371 for the week with 28 kills, while Taylor Root picked up 55 digs in the back row.
Following the Crusaders: The sports staff at Valparaiso’s campus radio station, WVUR 95.1 FM, will be broadcasting most of the Crusaders’ volleyball matches this season. Both the Butler and Oakland matches will be carried live over the airwaves of WVUR, as well as online at www.valpoathletics.com. Live video through the Horizon League Network, as well as live statistics, will be available for both matches as well.
Winning Ways: While Valpo had its eight-match winning streak snapped when it lost at Cleveland State this past Friday, the Crusaders have still won nine of their last ten matches in a stretch reminiscent of last year’s season-ending stretch. The 2008 Crusader squad opened the season 7-5 before closing the year with wins in 18 of their final 20 matches, while this year’s team started the season 8-6 prior to winning nine of its last ten.
Going to the Tournament: With their win Saturday at Wright State, the Crusaders secured a spot in the Horizon League Championship, as for the first time this year, only the top six teams will make the tournament. A win against Butler on Friday would put Valpo in the driver’s seat for a top-two seed and a bye into the semifinals, as the Crusaders would hold a three-game lead over third place with four matches remaining.
Winning the Close Sets: The Crusaders have made a habit recently of winning the close sets (decided by three points or less). After starting the season 2-7 in close sets in their first five matches, Valpo played just two close sets over its next seven outings, going 1-1. Since hitting the heart of the Horizon League schedule, starting with the Wright State match on Sept. 25, the Crusaders have played 20 close sets over a 12-match span, going an amazing 19-1 in the tight frames. The only close set Valpo has lost in that time frame was a 29-27 decision in S4 against Milwaukee on Oct. 7.
Killer Instinct: The Crusaders have become known recently as a dominant squad on the offensive side of the ball, and have lived up to that reputation so far this season. Valpo, which led the nation in both kills and assists per set in 2008, currently leads the league and ranks 14th nationally with 14.23 kills/set and also sits 13th in the nation with 13.36 assists/set. The Crusaders have increased their averages to 14.80 kills/set and 14.35 assists/set in Horizon League play, both also tops among league squads. Valpo is also a perfect 17-0 this season when it outkills its opponent and has held a double-figure advantage in the category on 11 occasions.
Player of the Week: Taylor Root was named the Horizon League Defensive Player of the Week this past Monday for her standout efforts on the back line last week, her second league weekly honor of the season following recognition on Oct. 12. She became the second Crusader to twice earn league accolades this season, as Angie Porché previously received Horizon League Offensive Player of the Week recognition on Sept. 21 and Oct. 19. Valpo has now had 16 league weekly honorees in just 2+ seasons as a Horizon League member.
Tabbed Second: Valparaiso has been projected to finish second in the Horizon League this season in preseason polling of the league’s nine head coaches. The Crusaders received two of the nine first-place votes en route to tallying 58 points. Defending league champion Milwaukee received the other seven first-place nods and totaled 63 points, while Cleveland State, Butler, Wright State, Loyola, UIC, Youngstown State and Green Bay rounded out the polling in order.
Root Earns Second League Honor: Freshman libero Taylor Root earned Horizon League Defensive Player of the Week accolades for the second time this year after averaging 5.50 digs/set over the Crusaders’ three matches last week. Root kicked off the week with 22 digs in a non-league sweep at IUPUI before posting 17 digs in Valpo’s match at Cleveland State. The freshman closed the week with a match-high 16 digs in the Crusaders’ sweep at Wright State. On the year, Root is averaging an even 5.00 digs/set, which ranks 31st nationally and atop the Horizon League. The freshman has already totaled 430 digs on the season, just 30 away from cracking Valpo’s single-season top-ten in the category.
Layman Lays Down Kills: Junior middle hitter Katie Layman had two of the best offensive matches of her career in a pair of Crusader victories last week. Layman kicked off the week with a team-high 12 kills on .435 hitting in Valpo’s sweep at IUPUI, also posting three blocks in the win over the Jaguars. After going for seven kills and five rejections against Cleveland State, the junior posted the best single-match hitting percentage of her career against Wright State, putting down nine kills on 14 swings without an attack error, good for a .643 clip. On the week, Layman registered 2.80 kills/set on .371 hitting while also averaging a block per set.
Porché Leads the Way: Senior outside hitter Angie Porché continued her offensive production for the Crusaders last week, posting 11 kills at IUPUI before pacing Valpo with 16 kills apiece against Cleveland State and Wright State, the 14th and 15th time she’s led the Crusaders in the category this season. Porché, who leads all players in Horizon League action with 4.35 kills/set, is within reach of a number of statistical milestones. The senior will almost certainly reach 1,000 career digs this weekend, needing just two digs to do so. She is also just 75 kills shy of 2,000 for her career, as well as just 169 attacks shy of 5,000 for her career.
Bukowski Sets Things Up: Senior setter Kim Bukowski continued to run the Crusader offense last week, registering 115 of Valpo’s 141 assists on the week as the Crusaders averaged 14.70 kills/set over the week’s three matches. Bukowski handed out 42 assists against IUPUI, 39 against Cleveland State and 34 at Wright State as she has paced the Crusaders in the category in each of their 24 matches this year. On the season, the senior is averaging 9.78 assists/set and has increased her average to 11.07 assists/set in Horizon League action, second-best in the league.
Quickly: Sophomore outside hitter Katie Britton tied for team-high honors with 12 kills in the win over IUPUI, the sixth time this year she has paced the Crusaders ... freshman outside hitter Mary Dent set a new career high with nine kills against Cleveland State, hitting at a .381 clip ... sophomore setter Jenny Pokorny led Valpo in blocks in a match for the first time in her career against Wright State, picking up three rejections.