VALPARAISO — Everything is starting to click for the Valparaiso women’s basketball team, and just in time for the start of their venture into the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Crusaders wrapped up their nonconference slate Thursday night with a dominating 68-50 victory over Fort Wayne at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Valparaiso used a 20-0 run that spawned two quarters to break open a close game and the Crusaders then coasted to the finish line.
The win is Valparaiso’s fourth in a row, tying the longest winning streak of the Tracey Dorow era. The Crusaders finished their nonconference schedule with a 7-4 record, their best mark through 11 games since the 2001-02 season.
“Somehow, we’re finding ways to grind things out,” Valparaiso coach Tracey Dorow said. “That’s something we’ve never done in the past. I look at that, it’s something to be proud of, especially with our youth.”
The Crusaders trailed 5-4 early when reserve freshman Ella Ellenson scored a layup and added two free throws to jumpstart a 20-0 run that lasted nearly seven minutes of game action spread over two quarters. Star senior Dani Franklin scored six points during the run and Grace Hales added five points, including a layup that gave Valparaiso a 24-5 lead with 6:24 remaining in the second quarter.
Ellenson finished with a career-high 10 points in eight minutes. The freshman didn’t play in Monday’s road victory at Eastern Illinois, but was a key factor early on Thursday night.
“I’m usually just hopping all over the place, making sure I’m ready to go if Coach calls for me,” Ellenson said.
“We’ve been talking a lot about what (Ella) brings,” Dorow added. “She brings a ton of energy, runs the floor well and she’s patient. She really took her time, attacked the rim and got to the free throw line. She’s a hustler. She battles every single possession.”
Franklin scored 10 of her team-high 19 points in the second quarter as the Crusaders carried a 33-17 lead into the locker room. Valparaiso stretched the lead to 47-25 after the third quarter as former LaPorte star Nicole Konieczny added 12 points while taking care of the ball. The Crusaders tied a season-low by committing just eight turnovers.
Valparaiso senior Georgi Donchetz returned to the lineup for the first time this season after suffering a knee injury during the preseason. Donchetz received a strong applause from her teammates when she took the floor and added four rebounds in eight minutes.
“Georgi is the heart and soul of our program,” Dorow said. “She’s been instrumental in all of the changes we’ve made. Nobody is more excited for her than I am. She’s just ready to be back and playing. She deserves the opportunity.”
Valparaiso will open up Valley play next Friday at perennial league favorite Drake. The Crusaders will play their conference home opener on Jan. 5 against Illinois State.