The fourth-seeded Valparaiso University volleyball team put together a strong showing Friday evening in its first appearance in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament as it took on top-seeded UNI, but in the end, the Panthers earned a 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-22) victory to advance to the tournament championship match on Sunday. Valpo will now await a potential bid to the postseason National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC).
How It Happened
- The opening set featured 10 ties and six lead changes, and was a set featuring multiple swings both ways. UNI struck first with a 6-1 stretch which gave it a 9-6 lead, but shortly thereafter, a kill from senior Allison Ketcham (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) started a 5-0 Valpo run which put it ahead 12-10 and forced a UNI timeout.
- After the teams traded sideouts, UNI reeled off six of the next seven points to take a 17-14 advantage, but Valpo quickly regained the lead with a four-point spurt which included a pair of kills by senior Katherine Carlson (Lake Orion, Mich./Notre Dame Prep).
- The Panthers came back with three straight points to go ahead 20-18. The next two points went Valpo’s way, as the Brown and Gold evened the set at 20 apiece. The teams would trade sideouts over the next four points as the frame was level at 22-all, but UNI got a trio of kills to close out the opener and take the 1-0 lead.
- UNI held the advantage for most of the first half of the second set, but approaching the halfway mark, Valpo scored three straight – all on Carlson kills – to tie things up at 12-12. The teams traded sideouts for the next six points before freshman Gabby Daniels (Mill Valley, Calif./St. Francis) picked up a service ace to make it back-to-back points for Valpo and give it a slim 16-15 lead.
- More trading of points ensued until, tied at 18-18, Valpo scored four of the next five points – including two kills by senior Lizzie Zaleski (Oak Lawn, Ill./Marist) – to take a 22-19 lead.
- Back-to-back kills from MVC Player of the Year Piper Thomas cut the edge to 22-21, but first Carlson and then Ketcham came up with kills to give Valpo set point at 24-21. Thomas picked up another kill for UNI to hold off one set point chance, but a UNI attack error closed out the second set in Valpo’s favor to even the match.
- The third set would be decided by late runs, as the frame hit the media timeout with UNI holding a 15-14 advantage. With UNI leading 16-15, Valpo scored four of the next five points, getting kills during the run from Ketcham, sophomore Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) and freshman Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East), to go ahead 19-17.
- The Panthers responded with a big run, however, scoring the next seven points to earn set point at 24-19. Valpo held off two chances for UNI to close the set, but on its third opportunity, UNI finished off the third frame and took a 2-1 lead.
- After a tight start to the fourth set, it looked like UNI would run away to close out the win, as the Panthers went on an 8-1 run to go ahead 14-8. UNI extended its lead in the fourth frame to as many as nine points at 21-12.
- Valpo was not about to go down without a fight, though, scoring the next three points to close to within six points. The teams would play even over the next six points as UNI was serving for match point at 24-18 before one final Valpo run. Kills from Zaleski and Carlson, as well as a pair of blocks by Hart and Zaleski, held off four match point chances from the Panthers and moved Valpo to within 24-22 before Thomas closed out the match with a kill for the Panthers.
Inside the Match
- UNI entered the match receiving votes in the AVCA top-25 poll, and has been either ranked or receiving votes in all five of Valpo’s matchups with it over the last two years. UNI also came into the week 22nd nationally in RPI.
- The Panthers hit .216 with 68 kills on Friday, versus 56 kills on .163 hitting for the Crusaders. UNI also out-dug Valpo 100-82 and held a narrow 10-8 advantage in blocks.
- Valpo’s seniors led the way on the attack, as all three active seniors reached double figures in kills. Ketcham led the way with 17 kills on .268 hitting while also adding 19 digs.
- Coming off a 21-kill effort on Thursday, Carlson posted 16 kills on Friday and chipped in 11 digs as well. Meanwhile, Zaleski registered 11 kills and tied for team-high honors defensively with five blocks.
- Sophomore Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) led the back row with 29 digs, while sophomore Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) tied for team-high honors at the net with five blocks. Anderson added 44 assists and 14 digs as well.
- Anderson finished with 94 assists in Valpo’s two MVC Tournament matches, while Cookerly picked up 59 digs over the two contests. Both totals were the highest by a Valpo player in conference tournament action since the 2010 Horizon League Tournament, where Jenny Pokorny recorded 100 assists and Taylor Root tallied 63 digs over three matches.
- Movement up the program’s single-season charts continued on Friday as well. Most notably, Anderson jumped into a tie for second in a single season at Valpo in assists with 1,429 helpers, matching Katie Bova’s 2004 total.
- Cookerly leapfrogged four people on Friday, including her own freshman year total, to move into fourth on Valpo’s single-season digs chart with 691.
- Ketcham ranks sixth in a single season in program history in attacks (1,300), while McCarthy cracked the top-10 in single season blocks (129).
- As a team, Valpo has moved into the program’s single-season top-10 charts in five different categories.
Thoughts From Coach Avery
“It was a great match to be a part of tonight. We played really good volleyball, and more importantly, we forced UNI to have to play really good volleyball in order to win. I am so proud of the effort we put in tonight – we never gave up the entire match, right down to the final point.”
“What a great season we have had this year. I’m so proud to be able to coach this fine group of young ladies.”
Valpo (25-10) awaits word of a potential postseason bid to the NIVC, as the Crusaders entered the weekend with an RPI of 72 and are one of just 19 programs in the nation (as of the end of play Thursday) with 25 or more victories. Last season’s NIVC announcement came following the announcement of the NCAA Tournament field on Selection Sunday.