VALPARAISO | The third time was most definitely the charm for the Valparaiso volleyball team Thursday night.
After dropping two regular-season contests to LaPorte, the host Vikings rallied to knock the Slicers out of the postseason for a second straight year with a 26-28, 25-14, 27-25, 19-25, 15-13 victory in the first round of the Class 4A Valparaiso Sectional.
Valparaiso will host Crown Point, while Portage and Michigan City will meet in the other semifinal Saturday morning. Crown Point edged Chesterton 25-19, 20-25, 23-25, 25-21, 15-10 in Thursday's nightcap.
"We had two letdowns against LaPorte this season, and I didn't want a third letdown," Valparaiso coach Katie Lenard said. "I wanted the one that mattered the most."
The Vikings were composed from the start and didn't look rattled against the experienced Slicers in the first game. Valparaiso gave LaPorte everything it could handle before ultimately falling 26-28. Still, the Vikings were not deterred and answered with a dominating 25-14 win in the second game.
"Valpo just wanted it more," LaPorte coach Erin Parker said. "We didn't execute. With a senior-led team, we should be able to come out and get the job done and that didn't happen tonight. Hats off to Valpo."
The teams split the next two games, setting up a dramatic winner-take-all fifth game in which there was never more than two points difference throughout the game. The match was tied at 12-12 when Valparaiso senior Kelsie Schutz delivered a kill to give the Vikings the advantage. Noelle Eveland added another kill before LaPorte cut the deficit to 14-13. Needing one point to knock off the rival Slicers, it was the transfer Eveland (26 kills) that delivered the game-clinching kill, sending the Vikings into a frenzy and the Slicers to tears.
"I didn't know much about this rivalry, so this was more about doing it for my teammates," Eveland said. "Our girls wanted to prove that last year wasn't just because of a few good players. We're a good team."
The Vikings (25-9) beat LaPorte in the sectional championship last year, but the Slicers were without star Taylor Lebo and Valparaiso had a lot of senior power. Thursday's match was more than just about one game or one sectional match. Valparaiso came into the game thinking they still had something left to prove.
"We came out saying that we had nothing to lose, but that we were going to get this done," Valparaiso senior Tarrah Lasky said. "Now that we have, we've celebrated and it's time to move on."
Trailing 2-1 to Chesterton, the Bulldogs (18-15) scored the final nine points of the fourth game. Crown Point then jumped out to a quick lead in the fifth game and rode the momentum to the finish.
"We've been through a whole lot this season and it's not in our nature to quit," Crown Point coach Allison Duncan said. "I'm incredibly proud of this group for what they did (Thursday)."
The loss left a bitter taste for the Trojans, who looked like they were heading to victory in the fourth game until the official had a non-call of an apparent lift from a Crown Point middle blocker that brought groans from the crowd. Instead of leading 22-18, the Trojans now had just a two-point lead and Crown Point's Alyssa Kvarta remained on serve and finished out the match.
"There was only one person in the entire place who didn't realize that was a lift," Chesterton coach TR Harlan said. "Unfortunately, it was the most important person."