Down 21-20 late in the first set? No problem. Trailing 23-20 in the second set? No big deal. Facing a 22-17 deficit in the third set? Shake it off. The Valparaiso University volleyball team strung together points late in all three sets to overcome those deficits and earn a 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 27-25) sweep at defending league champion Oakland in Rochester, Mich. on Saturday afternoon.
“It was great to get another hard-earned victory on the road today,” said Crusader head coach Carin Avery. “I’m so proud of our team for being on the other end and getting the come-from-behind victory tonight. It was great to see us stay mentally engaged at the end of the match and not give up.”
Valpo looked to control the first set as it moved past the halfway point, as the Crusaders enjoyed a three-point lead at 16-13 and still led by two at 19-17. But a 4-1 Oakland spurt erased Valpo’s edge and gave the Golden Grizzlies a 21-20 lead. That would just set up Valpo’s first-set heroics, however, as the Crusaders evened the frame on a service error and reclaimed the lead thanks to a kill from sophomore Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian).
Then, it was time for sophomore Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) to step up. Graboski’s 12th solo block of the season made it 23-21 Crusaders, and then the sophomore won a joust at the net to tally a kill and give Valpo set point at 24-21. Graboski would team up with Ketcham for another rejection to close out the opener.
Oakland led nearly throughout the entire second set, but again late points went the Crusaders’ way as Valpo claimed a 2-0 lead. The Crusaders made a mid-set push to erase an 18-14 deficit and tie the set at 18-all, but the Golden Grizzlies responded with three straight points. After the two sides traded two points apiece, it was Oakland with a 23-20 lead as the Golden Grizzlies were poised to even the match going into the locker room.
Valpo had other thoughts however, regaining the serve on a kill from Ketcham and then getting another kill from the sophomore to cut the lead to just one point. A block from Graboski and senior Kelsey Berrington (Britton, Mich./Tecumseh) tied the second set at 23-23, and Berrington followed by taking a pass tight to the net, turning and attacking to the far corner for a kill to give Valpo set point at 24-23. Once again, it was the sophomore Ketcham coming up big with a kill, her eighth on just 10 swings in the set, to put the Golden Grizzlies away and send Valpo into the in-game break up two sets to none.
The Golden Grizzlies led throughout the third set, but once again the Crusaders would rally late. Oakland’s lead was as many as five points on multiple occasions, the latest coming at 22-17. Valpo gained back the serve thanks to a kill from redshirt freshman Kayla Currier (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East), and kills from Graboski and freshman Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) followed to force an Oakland timeout at 22-20.
Out of the stoppage, junior Morganne Longoria (Burlington, Wis./Burlington) stepped up with back-to-back service aces to even the third set at 22-all. A Ketcham kill and an Oakland error made it a 7-0 run and gave Valpo match point at 24-22. The Golden Grizzlies held off three of the Crusaders’ match point chances, but another kill from Ketcham gave Valpo a fourth chance to finish the sweep at 26-25, and an Oakland error closed out the 3-0 win.
Ketcham paced the Crusaders Saturday with 14 kills, while Campbell added 13 kills, both of whom did so on .294 hitting. The Crusaders hit .228 for the match, with Berrington handing out 32 assists over the three sets. Valpo posted seven service aces, led by three from Longoria, against just two service errors on the match. Berrington and Longoria tied for team-high honors with 12 digs apiece, while at the net, Graboski was part of five of the Crusaders’ seven team blocks.
Cassie Pelloni hit .308 with a match-high 17 kills to pace Oakland (15-11, 9-3 Horizon). Ciara Schultz handed out 41 assists in the losing effort.
Valparaiso (22-6, 8-4 Horizon) looks to continue its three-match road winning streak next Friday evening at Green Bay. First serve is slated for 7 p.m., with the action available live on ESPN3.com. Live stats will also be available at ValpoAthletics.com.