VALPARAISO | Having to play Duneland Athletic Conference champion Lake Central in her final home match was just the opportunity that Valparaiso senior Noelle Eveland was looking for.
The Times No. 7 Vikings rallied to capture the first game and then put their foot on the gas in an impressive 26-24, 25-9, 15-25, 25-22 victory over No. 1 Lake Central.
Kate Bontrager led the Vikings (19-12, 11-3) with 13 kills, while Eveland added 11 kills and 26 digs.
"We thought we had the potential to beat a team like Lake Central, but we hadn't proved that yet," Eveland said. "We've been coming close, losing to teams in five, but we hadn't finished the job yet. This was important for us tonight."
The match carried a sectional-like atmosphere and was rife with possible distractions for the Vikings, not the least of which was a pregame ceremony recognizing Eveland and senior teammate Anna Walls.
"It's always a concern when you add in that emotion, but I felt like we were able to stay focused," Valparaiso coach Katie Lenard said.
Valparaiso came out on fire by scoring the first three points of the night. After the Indians (21-7, 12-2) rallied with five straight, the Vikings showed their resolve by scoring the next five points and taking control of the game. Lake Central battled back to take a late lead, but the Vikings closed strong and carried the momentum into the second game.
"Winning the first game was critical for us," Lenard said. "Once you get that first game, then you're in control of the match. I thought maybe we got too confident later on, but we regrouped and went back to playing our style."
The Vikings played shorthanded on Tuesday night as junior Morgan Mikenas and sophomore Anne Clark both missed the match with injuries. Lenard promoted several players from junior varsity, and the seniors were right there to coach them up.
"I told them to try hard, and if they made mistakes to shake them off," Walls said. "We played together as a unit tonight."
Lake Central coach Tina Tinberg gave plenty of credit to Valparaiso after the match, but also remarked that her squad didn't come ready to play.
"I thought we were too relaxed," Tinberg said. "We weren't sharp. You can never underestimate anybody in this conference. Every night in the DAC you have to be ready."