Led by 22 points from Agnieszka Kulaga (Tarnow, Poland/I Liceum Ogolnokstalcace H.S.) and a double-double by Aimee Litka (South Bend, Ind./Saint Joseph’s H.S.), Valparaiso opened the 2008-2009 regular season on Wednesday evening with a 69-58 victory over Bowling Green.
The Crusaders led by seven at halftime, and built a lead as big as 22 with less than three minutes to play against the four-time defending Mid-American Conference regular season champions.
“I was very proud of our team tonight,” head coach Keith Freeman said. “It is a good way to get the season started. I’m encouraged with where we are now and I think we have a chance to get a lot better.”
Kulaga went 9-of-14 from the floor to lead all scorers while Litka had 17 points and 12 boards to go along with four assists. She made her first five three-point attempts in the contest.
“Aimee Litka played a monster game,” added Freeman. “In addition to scoring, she really rebounded well.”
Bowling Green (0-2) took at early 8-3 lead three minutes into the game, but a 12-3 run gave the Crusaders an advantage they would not give up the rest of the way.
Litka’s second three of the game with 9:36 to play put Valpo on top 22-14 and the Crusaders maintained a four to eight point lead the rest of the half, taking a 35-28 edge into the locker room.
The Falcons scored the first four points out of the break, and were within three, 45-42 with 12:57 to play. BGSU had two straight possessions to cut into the lead, but Valpo’s defense kept the lead and back-to-back baskets by Kulaga, started with a triple, pushed the lead to eight.
With the lead at six, 50-44, with 11:07 remaining, Litka hit a triple to ignite a 19-3 run, part of a bigger 24-5 spurt that gave Valpo its first season-opening win since defeating Northern Iowa on November 18, 2005.
Lauren Kenney (Mooresville, Ind./Mooresville H.S.) added eight points, six coming on assists from Whitney Farris (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo H.S.). Farris finished with a career-high six helpers. Launa Hochstetler (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland H.S.) also had seven assists for the Brown and Gold as the Crusaders shot 48.1% from the floor, including 10-of-19 (52.6%) from three-point range.
“Launa did a great job handling the ball,” said Freeman. “She was pressured all night long. Whitney played with great energy and we were the beneficiary of her passing tonight.”
Lauren Prochaska led the Falcons with 15 points while Niki McCoy and Tracy Pontius had 11 points each. McCoy also had a team-high six rebounds. Valpo’s defense limited Bowling Green to just 34% shooting from the floor and forced 18 turnovers.
Valparaiso (1-0) heads out on the road for four straight games now, beginning Tuesday afternoon in Mount Pleasant, Mich. against another MAC foe in Central Michigan. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. CST at Rose Arena.
Game Notes: Valpo won a season opener for just the second time in the last eight years … ironically, both wins were the only two times during the stretch the Crusaders opened at home … Valpo is now 11-26 all-time in season openers … this was the first time in four meetings Valpo has defeated Bowling Green … the Crusaders fell 81-56 to the Falcons in last year’s opener … Hochstetler moved into 12th place on Valpo’s career assist list with 232 passing Lina Mascarenas (1988-1992) and Betsy Rietema (2003-2007) … junior college transfers Kenney and Sylwia Zabielewicz (Warsaw, Poland/Generala Wladyslawa Andersa H.S.) both started their first game with the Crusaders … Betsy Adams (Monticello, Ind./Twin Lakes H.S.) made her collegiate debut on Wednesday and made a three-pointer from the right wing from beyond the men’s arc for her first shot attempt … after outrebounding opponents in just four games last year, Valpo held a 36-32 rebounding advantage against the Falcons … the Crusaders also had 20 assists to 18 turnovers.