The sixth-seeded Valparaiso University volleyball team took the first set from third-seeded Illinois State Thursday night in its first-ever match at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in Normal, Ill., but the Redbirds claimed each of the next three sets as Valpo’s season came to an end, 3-1 (23-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-19).
How It Happened
- Illinois State led throughout much of the first half of the first set and enjoyed a 15-12 lead at the media timeout. Out of the stoppage, however, Valpo reeled off five of the next six points to pull ahead, 17-16.
- After the teams traded sideouts on the next three serves, Valpo scored three consecutive points – including a kill and a solo block by redshirt junior Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) – to earn a 21-18 lead.
- Illinois State scored the next two to close back within one, but the Crusaders answered with a block from Ketcham and junior Sydney Bronner (Frankenmuth, Mich./Frankenmuth), followed by a Bronner kill to make it 23-20.
- Two straight points from the Redbirds again made it a one-point set before an attack error from Illinois State gave Valpo two set point opportunities. The Crusaders converted on their second with a kill from junior Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep) to take the opening frame.
- Valpo led by as many as three points in the early portion of the second set and enjoyed a 13-12 lead past the halfway point, but Illinois State out-scored the Crusaders 13-2 the rest of the way to even the match.
- The Crusaders looked to jump on top of the Redbirds coming out of the in-game break to start the third set, scoring the first four points of the frame, but a 5-1 spurt from Illinois State immediately erased the advantage.
- Valpo was ahead 10-9 before a 7-1 run from Illinois State made it 16-11 Redbirds. Kills from Carlson and junior Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist), followed by back-to-back blocks which senior Taylor Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio/Upper Sandusky) was part of, brought the Crusaders back within 16-15.
- Illinois State would score seven of the next 11 points to seemingly take control at 23-19, but Valpo had one final rally. An ISU error and a kill by freshman Jaclyn Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) made it 23-21, and after a point for the Redbirds, Bronner came up with a kill and an ISU attack error followed to hold off two ISU set point chances. The Redbirds converted on their third with a kill, however, to take the 2-1 lead.
- Valpo led briefly in set four, going up 5-2 early on, but Illinois State rallied to tie the set, and then with the score 7-7, the Redbirds ran off seven of the next eight points to go ahead 14-8.
- The Crusaders would not go down without a fight, however, closing back to within two points on multiple occasions – the latest coming as a Bulmahn kill capped a three-point spurt to make it 21-19. But following a timeout, Illinois State would score the final four points of the match.
Inside the Match
- The four sets featured a combined 26 tie scores and 10 lead changes.
- Illinois State held a 61-46 advantage in kills over the Crusaders, as the Redbirds placed five players in double figures in kills.
- Bronner and Graboski tied for team-high honors for the Crusaders with 11 kills apiece. Both middles were part of three of the Crusaders’ eight blocks at the net as well.
- Freshman Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) capped her stellar rookie season with a 26-dig effort in the back row, leading the way as Valpo tallied 82 digs on the night.
- Freshman setter Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) recorded a double-double in the season finale with 39 assists and 13 digs, while Carlson posted 18 digs and Ketcham 12.
Inside the Season
- The loss ends the Crusaders’ first season in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 17-16 overall record – the program’s 15th winning season in the 16-year tenure of head coach Carin Avery.
- Valpo finished in a tie for fifth place in the MVC regular season standings after being picked to finish seventh in the conference’s preseason poll.
- Entering the tournament leading the nation with 20.01 digs/set, the Crusaders pushed that average up slightly to 20.03 digs/set on Thursday by tallying 82 digs over the four sets against the Redbirds. Valpo becomes only the second team since the move to 25-point rally scoring in 2008 to average at least 20 digs/set, and will almost assuredly finish the season as the nation’s leader in the category.
- Valpo’s total of 2,343 digs this year is sixth-most in a single season in program history and the second-most in the 25-point rally scoring era – trailing only the 2010 campaign, in which the Crusaders played 13 more sets of volleyball.
- Cookerly leapfrogged over three players on Thursday on the Crusaders’ single-season digs chart, finishing the campaign with 686 digs – good for fourth in a season in program history.
- Ketcham just missed the 500-dig milestone for the season as well and will enter her final year with 1,435 career digs, already ninth-most in program history. Her average of 4.26 digs/set leads all Valley non-liberos this year as well.
Inside the Careers
- Thursday’s loss marks the end of the careers of two Crusader seniors: Graboski and Catherine Ament (New Carlisle, Ind./New Prairie).
- Graboski earned First Team All-MVC honors this year in her final season, leading the Crusaders in hitting percentage and kills and finishing second in blocks.
- Graboski closed her career with 1,192 kills – seventh-best in Crusader history, 358 total blocks – good for ninth in program history, and 61 solo blocks – tied for sixth all-time at Valpo.
- Ament appeared in 20 matches over her first two years at Valpo, totaling 28 digs, before being forced to the sidelines following her sophomore year due to being medically unable to compete. She spent her final two seasons with the Crusader program as a student assistant.
- The Crusaders won 84 matches over the four-year careers of Ament and Graboski.