The NCAA has passed legislation adding the National Invitational Volleyball Championship as a permanent season-ending event for volleyball – Triple Crown Sports brought the event back to life in 2017 and has seen the programs from Ole Miss, Iowa State, Georgia Tech and UNLV claim an NIVC title. The 2022 event will launch with selection night on Nov. 27, with the championship match slated for Dec. 12 or 13.
By Kyle Koso
With more than 20 years in as a D-I volleyball coach, Carin Avery understands how to pivot when her team must adjust to new information.
A perfect example is how her Valparaiso team rebounded from a tough loss in a Missouri Valley Conference tournament semifinal last season, accepting a bid to the National Invitational Volleyball Championships and making a dominating run to the final match before falling just short to eventual champion UNLV.
Avery’s ability to remake and remodel the vision for the Beacons continues in 2022, as Valpo is working with undersized outside hitters, a freshman libero, and a reliance on depth in comparison to the 2021 roster which had a significantly tighter rotation. Early returns are promising – the Beacons won last weekend’s season-opening tournament at Youngstown State, going 3-0 with 5-foot-9 hitters Bella Ravotto and Elise Swistek (MVP) earning all-tourney honors, along with that new libero, Emma Hickey.
Hickey is replacing five-year force Rylee Cookerly, who wrapped up her Valpo run with the second-highest total of digs in NCAA D-I history. Avery, however, saw Plan B on this topic sort itself out long ago.
“I’ve known (Hickey) and her family – they’re from my hometown (Granger, IN) – I’ve seen that kid play since elementary school,” said Avery, whose team was 26-10 last year and who signed a contract extension this offseason. “I’ve wanted her here the last five, six or seven years. The COVID season ended up working perfectly (extending Cookerly's career), and Emma could come in now as a freshman. She’s a gamer, and in practice no matter what side you put her on, she’s a winner. It’s so important, that position, but I had no worries when Rylee left.”
Offensively, Ravotto (a senior) and Swistek (sophomore) are being asked to provide punch after Valpo graduated its two leading terminal hitters from a year ago, Peyton McCarthy and Haley Hart. Jumping into that task as well are seniors Kara Cooper and Maddy Boyer, with setters Abby Kois (redshirt freshman) and Victoria Bulmahn (junior) capably steering the attack.
“The majority of offense was coming from (Hart and McCarthy) last year, so it’s a big void,” Avery said. “How we decided to go forward is spreading out the offense – that was the goal in the spring. Our two outside hitters made the all-tournament team and hit phenomenally -- we are a very different looking team. We have a lot of depth and showed it first weekend, a ton of people in a ton of different positions – knowing we have that, it can help set us apart. Last year, we ran with the top seven or eight and just didn’t have much depth.”
Valparaiso now focuses on hosting a tournament on the Beacons campus for this first time since 2018, Sept. 2-3, featuring SIU-Edwardsville, Campbell and Northern Illinois.
“We are excited for the home tournament. We traveled five weekends in a row last year, and that’s a lot of wear and tear,” Avery added. “We are hoping that being home will help us for this and also moving forward. We are excited to see what kind of crowd we are going to get after that NIVC run.”
ON THE NIVC – Valparaiso played in the 2018 NIVC, winning two matches to reach the quarterfinals. In 2021, the Beacons were working toward an NCAA tourney bid but lost in five sets to Loyola in the MVC semifinals, but they were eager to use the NIVC setting to make the most of the rest of the season.
Valpo won four matches in straight sets, including a semifinal win over UConn, and continued to bid to secure matches at home. For the final against UNLV, a crowd of 2,220 came out to support the Beacons.
“It was such a bummer, losing 15-13 in the conference tournament. It was heart-breaking with the seniors, but I was proud of them for still wanting to compete,” Avery said. “We were very excited about the opportunity of the NIVC, even if it wasn’t the NCAA. Hosting it was a huge bonus; the first weekend was a decent crowd but over time, our student body and hometown really came out and supported us. That was the the most amazing experience, the semifinal and final, how the crowds came out. I think both UConn and UNLV would have told anyone that was a championship-feel weekend for the teams. It really was an amazing experience, one we will cherish forever.”