Playing shorthanded against a UNI squad which claimed the MVC regular-season title and which swept the regular-season finale between the two teams in swift fashion just six days ago, it would have been easy for the Valpo volleyball team to be content with their Thursday first-round tournament win, especially after the Panthers rolled to a first-set win.
But for a Valpo program which is seemingly defined by the words scrappy and fight every time opposing coaches describe what it’s like to take on the Brown and Gold, that wouldn’t be the way to go out. And the 2019 iteration of the Valpo volleyball team epitomized those words against the heavy favorites Friday evening, rallying to earn a third-set victory and leading past the midway point of the fourth set before falling to UNI, 3-1 (25-9, 25-20, 20-25, 25-17) in the MVC semifinals.
How It Happened
The first set was all UNI, start to finish, as the Panthers limited Valpo to just two kills for the frame. The Panthers opened with 10 of the first 12 points, and after Valpo scored four straight to close within 10-6, closed on a 15-3 run.
After scoring just nine points in the opening set, Valpo led by two when it reached nine points in the second frame, as it found itself with a 9-7 lead.
Valpo led as late as 11-10 in the second set following a kill from sophomore Jillie Grant (Maumee, Ohio/Anthony Wayne). But the Panthers scored 12 of the next 16 points to take control, and Valpo got no closer than four points the rest of the way as UNI took the 2-0 lead in the match.
It looked like UNI would take control of the third set early on as well, as consecutive points put the Panthers ahead 4-2. But Valpo held UNI in check from then on, as it took the Panthers 30 more points before they put together consecutive points for the next time.
Valpo took the lead for good in the third frame thanks to an early four-point spurt which featured kills from juniors Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) and Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton), giving it a 7-5 lead.
There was never a huge run to give the Brown and Gold the upper hand in the third frame, but rather a series of small pushes, which combined with their ability to side out extended the lead. A kill and a solo block by junior Jaclyn Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) took an 8-7 lead and made it 10-7.
Later, leading 12-10, freshman Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) and McCarthy posted back-to-back kills to push the lead out to four points.
A three-point spurt, thanks to a Bulmahn kill and a pair of UNI errors, took a 15-12 advantage and made it 18-12. The cushion proved to be key when the Panthers put together a 4-1 stretch to close to within 21-18 later in the frame.
A solo block from McCarthy and a kill by freshman Bella Ravotto (Mishawaka, Ind./Marian) extended the lead back to five points at 23-18, and after a UNI kill, McCarthy came up with another kill to give Valpo set point. On its second chance, McCarthy combined with Anderson on a block to extend the match to a fourth set.
UNI had a pair of early pushes in the fourth set to try to secure a foothold in the frame, but Valpo answered each time. The Panthers opened the set by jumping out to a 5-2 lead before kills from Grant and McCarthy sandwiched a UNI attack error to tie the frame at 5-5.
UNI scored four of the next five to pull ahead, 10-6, and still led by three at 12-9 before another Valpo surge. This one started out with kills from sophomore Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East) and Grant, and following a UNI kill, McCarthy tallied another kill.
An attack error from the Panthers made it 13-13, and senior Brooke Westphal (Michigan City, Ind./Michigan City [Arizona St./South Florida St.]) followed that up with a service ace to give Valpo its first outright lead of the frame at 14-13 and force a UNI timeout.
Out of the stoppage, the Panthers reeled off seven consecutive points to take control of the set, as Valpo was unable to score back-to-back points the rest of the way.
Inside the Match
- This was the second straight year that Valpo has matched up against a top-seeded UNI team in the MVC Tournament semifinals after winning a five-set match in the first round.
- It also marked the third consecutive season in which Valpo has had to face the tournament host over the course of the tournament.
- After being swept by UNI in the regular season both at the ARC and in Cedar Falls, Valpo earned a set win over UNI for the first time this year with its third-set victory.
- Valpo was led offensively on Friday by Hart, who finished one kill off her career high as she tallied 11 kills on .269 hitting. It was the second time in six days Hart was the most prolific attacker for Valpo against the Panthers.
- Anderson handed out 32 assists on the evening, while junior Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg) led the back-row play with 18 digs, tying for match-high honors.
- McCarthy led the Valpo effort defensively at the net, as she was part of five of Valpo’s six team blocks.
Inside the Season
- After being projected to finish seventh in the MVC preseason poll, Valpo placed fifth in the regular season, outperforming the preseason poll for a third straight year.
- The MVC Libero of the Year and Valpo’s first major award winner since joining the MVC, Cookerly enjoyed another stellar season anchoring the Crusader back line.
- Among the top-20 in the nation in digs/set, Cookerly closed the year with 667 total digs, ninth-most in a single season in program history.
- Cookerly joins Taylor Root as the only Valpo players with three single-season dig totals among the top-nine in program history. She is also just the third player in MVC history with 600 or more digs in each of their first three seasons.
- With 2,092 digs through three seasons, Cookerly has tallied more digs than any other player in program history through the end of their junior campaign and already is fourth in program history in career digs. She ranks 12th nationally among active D-I players in the category, and is the only junior among the top-25.
- Cookerly also paced Valpo in 2019 with 29 service aces.
- McCarthy led the Crusaders at the net both offensively and defensively, finishing the campaign with 362 kills on a team-best .260 hitting and 114 blocks. A First Team All-MVC honoree, she ranked among the MVC’s best in hitting percentage, and became the first Valpo player since Ellen Vanden Berg in 2012 to pace Valpo in both kills and blocks.
- After graduating nearly 3,500 kills from last year’s team, including a pair of six-rotation outsides, Valpo needed new faces to step up on the attack. Grant and Bulmahn helped fill those positions, finishing second and third on the team with 316 and 278 kills after tallying just 26 and 77 kills, respectively, last season.
- Anderson handed out 1,076 assists in 2019 and finds herself with 3,850 career assists through three seasons, already fourth in program history, just 106 assists shy of third and within striking distance of the program’s career record with a strong senior campaign.
- Anderson has tallied four figures in assists in each of her first three seasons, joining Stephanie Schuricht and Cyndi Norman as the only Valpo players with at least 1,000 assists as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Inside the Careers
Friday marked the final collegiate contest for two Valpo seniors.
Alana Brown (Napa, Calif./Vintage) has been sidelined due to injury much of this season, but was able to make an appearance on Senior Night at the ARC two weekends ago. She closes her time at Valpo with 194 digs, 33 assists and 15 service aces, and was part of last year’s squad which won 27 matches – including the first postseason wins in program history – and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIVC.
Westphal joined Valpo in August for her final season of collegiate eligibility and helped backstop Valpo’s back row this year. She ended this year with 121 total digs, highlighted by a 12-dig performance in the Senior Night sweep of Bradley and then by shattering her previous high with 25 digs Thursday night in the first-round win over the Braves.