Valparaiso combined big offensive nights from Tara Diebler (Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central) and Angie Porché (Lynwood, Ill./Thornton Fractional South) with a stellar team defensive effort on the back line to earn a 3-1 (25-13, 25-22, 18-25, 25-23) victory at Green Bay in the Horizon League regular season finale Saturday. The win secured the second spot in the league standings for the Crusaders and assured Valpo of a bye into the league championship semifinals.
“It was definitely nice to get a win in our final regular season match going up against a tough Green Bay team,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “It’s exciting to come out on top despite being shorthanded up front again tonight. I thought Angie and Tara both did an especially good job picking up the slack offensively and coming up with extra kills. They both had very nice matches, and they’re getting into a good flow on the offensive end right now, which is what you want from your top hitters coming down the stretch.”
Offensively, Porché and Diebler carried the Crusaders, combining for 41 of Valpo’s 59 kills on the evening. Porché finished the afternoon with a match-best 22 kills on .273 hitting, while Diebler followed a career-high 20 kills on Friday with 19 more terminations on .357 hitting on Saturday. Kim Bukowski (Waukesha, Wis./West) handed out a match-high 53 assists over the four sets.
Defensively, Valpo reached triple figures in the digs category, out-digging Green Bay by a 100-86 margin. Taylor Root (Jenison, Mich./Jenison) led the effort on the back line with 28 digs, leading all players, but had plenty of help in the back. Jenny Pokorny (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) picked up 21 digs, the second-best effort of her career, while Porché registered 20 digs of her own for the second 20-20 match of her career. Bukowski chipped in 13 digs as well for a double-double of her own.
“We did a very good job keeping the ball off the ground tonight in the back,” said Avery. “Taylor, Jenny and Angie all had very good matches in that regard, especially when we were late in tight sets coming up with big defensive plays.”
The Crusaders controlled the opening set for the vast majority of the frame. Valpo trailed at 3-1, but put together a five-point spurt to take the lead for good. Green Bay was still within two at 7-5, but the Crusaders out-scored the Phoenix Porché picked up nine of her terminations in the opening set, while Diebler put down five kills on just seven swings. 18-8 from that point to take the opener.
The second set appeared early on that it would be a runaway, as the Crusaders jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but Green Bay The Phoenix still led by three points at 17-14 before Diebler stepped up out of a timeout, putting down three kills in a 5-0 spurt that gave Valpo the lead for good. Green Bay stayed close and was still within one point at 22-21, but an attack error gave the Crusaders a bit of a cushion and Mary Dent (Long Grove, Ill./Von Steuben) recorded kills for each of Valpo’s final two points of the set. responded with a 9-2 run of its own to take the advantage.
Valpo looked like it was in position to earn a sweep past the midway point of the third set, holding a 15-12 advantage after a four-point spurt that included two kills by Diebler and one from Porché. But Green Bay outscored the Crusaders 13-3 from that point to close the frame and send the match to a fourth set.
Green Bay led almost the entire way in the fourth frame, taking as much as a five-point lead at 12-7. The Crusaders scored seven of the next ten points, however, to close to within one point at 15-14. The Phoenix maintained that slim lead for a good stretch and was within three points of forcing a fifth set at 22-20 before Valpo put together one final surge. A Diebler kill was followed by a Green Bay attack error to tie things up, and a Katie Layman (LaPorte, Ind./New Prairie) kill gave Valpo its first outright lead of the set. The Phoenix picked up a kill to tie things up again at 23, but fittingly, Porché closed the match with back-to-back kills.
Green Bay (10-19, 5-11 Horizon) was led by 16 kills on .260 hitting from Holly Visser. Laura Garrow picked up 22 digs in the back row, while Visser added 21 digs of her own. Lynsey Thiel led all players with five blocks on the afternoon.
“There is still room for improvement for us, because we had points in the match where our blocking and defense suffered,” said Avery. “We have to stay more mentally focused and avoid those lapses. But we played hard all night long, which I’m proud of, and it’s always nice to get a win in the last match before the tournament to go into the tournament with some momentum.”
Valparaiso (22-9, 12-4 Horizon) clinched the second spot in the final Horizon League standings with the victory and earned a bye into the Horizon League Championship semifinals. The Crusaders will take on the higher remaining seed from Friday’s quarterfinals at a time to be determined on Saturday. This year’s championship will be contested in Cleveland, Ohio, as Cleveland State will host after winning the league’s regular season title.