Volleyball prevails in dramatic MVC Tournament opener over Bradley

By: Valparaiso University Last Updated: December 2, 2019

For a program which entered the 2019 MVC Tournament having played five sets in four of its last six matches, it seems only appropriate that it took the fifth-seeded Valpo volleyball team the full five sets to earn a dramatic 3-2 (25-15, 23-25, 25-21, 15-25, 15-11) victory over fourth-seeded Bradley Thursday evening in the first round of tournament action in Cedar Falls, Iowa. With the win, Valpo advances to face host and top-seeded UNI Friday evening.

How It Happened

-          Valpo limited Bradley to .000 hitting on just eight kills in the opening set. The Brown and Gold gained control with a six-point spurt in the middle of the frame, which included two kills from sophomore Haley Hart (Frankfort, Ill./Lincoln-Way East), to pull ahead 14-6.

-          Bradley responded with four straight to close to within four at 14-10, but Valpo kept the Braves at bay, never letting them close any closer than three points the rest of the way.

-          The second frame featured 11 ties and five lead changes as the two sides battled for control. A four-point run for Valpo, capped by a service ace from senior Brooke Westphal (Michigan City, Ind./Michigan City [Arizona St./South Florida St.]), put the Brown and Gold ahead late, 19-16.

-          Bradley scored three straight to even the score, and the two squads traded points until three consecutive kills by the Braves’ Hannah Thompson put them in front, 23-21. Valpo got within one point twice at 23-22 and 24-23, but both time Bradley came up with kills, the second closing the second set in its favor and evening the match at one set apiece.

-          Another heavily contested set, the third frame boasted nine ties and six lead changes. All those ties and lead changes occurred early on, however, as the last tie and lead change came at 14-14 and 15-14, respectively, as Valpo reeled off three straight points to pull out in front, 16-14.

-          But just because there were no more ties doesn’t mean Valpo cruised from there. Bradley closed to within one point four times – at 16-15, 17-16, 20-19 and 21-20 - before being thwarted from evening the score.

-          Leading 21-20, Valpo received a kill from junior Jaclyn Bulmahn (McCordsville, Ind./Mt. Vernon) to go up by two, and an attack error from the Braves made it 23-20. BU got a kill to pull back within two before freshman Maddy Boyer (Batavia, Ill./Batavia) recorded back-to-back kills to close out the third set in Valpo’s favor.

-          Bradley took control of the fourth set early on, scoring eight of the first 10 points for a quick six-point advantage. Valpo closed to within two at 9-7 following a four-point spurt, but that was as close as it would get, as the Braves scored 10 of the next 14 points en route to forcing the decisive fifth set.

-          Bulmahn had two kills and was in on a block for Valpo’s first three points of the fifth frame, propelling Valpo to a quick 3-1 lead. Bradley came back with five of the next seven to go ahead, 6-5, and still led by one as the teams traded sideouts approaching the halfway point.

-          It was Valpo which led at the changeover, however, as consecutive errors by the Braves made it 8-7 Valpo. Then, after switching sides, junior Peyton McCarthy (Cincinnati, Ohio/Seton) tallied a kill and then joined forces with Bulmahn on a block to push the lead to 10-7.

-          The three-point lead was more than enough, as Bradley was unable to string together consecutive points the rest of the way. Valpo closed out the contest on its second match point chance courtesy of a service error by the Braves to advance to the semifinals.

Inside the Match

-          This marks the second straight year that Valpo has prevailed in five sets in its MVC Tournament opener after doing the same at Missouri State last year. Just like last season, the opening-round win pits Valpo versus UNI in the semifinals.

-          Valpo has now advanced to at least the conference tournament semifinals in 15 of Carin Avery’s 18 years at the helm.

-          While she didn’t lead Valpo in the kills category on Thursday, the balanced offensive effort was no doubt led by the play of Boyer. The freshman, who stepped into the right side role just last week when Valpo lost Ally Cummings to injury, entered the match with a career high of five kills, but more than doubled that in the win. Boyer posted 12 kills on a team-high .357 hitting to help send Valpo to the semifinals.

-          Boyer was one of four Valpo hitters to reach double figures in kills. Bulmahn led the way with 14 kills for the Crusaders, and stepped up big time in the decisive fifth set, tallying four kills and two blocks.

-          Grant recorded 13 kills and added 18 digs as well, while McCarthy finished with 11 kills and a team-high six blocks.

-          Junior Brittany Anderson (East Chicago, Ind./Bishop Noll) handed out 49 assists on the evening, in the process surpassing 1,000 assists on the season.

-          Valpo’s back row play was strong in the win over the Braves, limiting BU to .133 hitting and racking up 108 digs – just one off the team’s season high in the category. Leading the way was junior Rylee Cookerly (Brownsburg, Ind./Brownsburg), who hours after being tabbed the MVC Libero of the Year racked up 33 digs in the winning effort. Cookerly’s 33 digs not only marked her third effort of 30+ digs this season, but also is tied for eighth-most in a single match in MVC Tournament history.

-          Cookerly’s big effort bumped her season total to 649 digs and moved her into ninth on Valpo’s single-season chart in the category. She is now 26 digs shy of eighth position and 28 digs away from seventh.

-          Right there with Cookerly locking down the back line on Thursday was Westphal, who helped make sure her collegiate career would extend at least one more night. Westphal entered the match with a season best of 12 digs, posting that in the Senior Night sweep of the Braves, and more than doubled that on the biggest stage, recording 25 digs.

Next Up

Valpo (14-19) looks to take down the regular season champions in UNI on Friday evening. First serve is slated for 5 p.m. from Cedar Falls, Iowa, and all the action can be seen live on ESPN+.