Evansville Volleyball to Host Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Tuesday marked a historic night for the University of Evansville volleyball program.
The Purple Aces beat Indiana State 3-1 (24-26, 25-8, 25-23, 25-23) to close out the regular season and clinch their best Missouri Valley Conference record at 11-7, breaking the 10-win mark set in 2000. Giulia Cardona, who won MVC Freshman of the Year last season, broke the program’s single-season win record with 508. At the start of the season, Alondra Vazquez broke the program’s all-time record.
Tuesday’s victory was the EU’s sixth in their last seven matches, their best run of the season. Culminating just in time for the MVC tournament, which is exactly what coach Fernando Morales wanted as the Aces prepare to host the league tournament at Meeks Family Fieldhouse.
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“From day one of practice, I told the girls that we weren’t going to be 100 percent for Game 1 or the first conference game. We have to be 100 percent in November when the tournament rolls around,” Morales said. “I think we are at our best right now. Hopefully we can still improve a bit.”
This is the seventh time that UE has participated in the MVC tournament since joining the league in 1994. During that span, the Aces’ only tournament victory came in 2000.
However, three of UE’s appearances have come since 2019, showing rapid growth since Morales joined the programme. During his three years as coach, the Aces won 31 conference games. In the previous seven seasons, they have won 27 combined.
It all culminated in an invitation to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, the first place in the EU playoffs since the 1980s. The Aces reached the third round before losing to Valparaiso.
“Getting that playoff experience has helped us a lot for this season,” Morales said. “It will help us a lot for the tournament because we know what it’s like to play a game that if you lose you’re out and the pressure that comes with it. We’ve been there, we have the experience.”
EU are the fifth seed as they host the Valley Championship for the first time and face eighth-seeded Bradley in the first round. While the Aces finished with a 14-18 overall record, Morales and the team are confident they can compete at Meeks this week because of the lessons from the regular season and the growth they’ve shown.
Morales on depth: ‘Every time we replace them, they do their job’
Heading into the season, UE were picked to finish second in the MVC and scheduled some tough games on their non-conference roster. The Aces faced nationally ranked opponents to prepare for conference play, a tough streak made more difficult by injuries to Vazquez and outside hitter Melanie Feliciano, who put on a redshirt after her injury.
Despite the losses, Morales and the team feel they have grown from this experience. Injuries allowed players deeper in the rotation to play significant points against Baylor, Arizona State and Michigan State. This, according to the Aces, put them in a good position heading into the tournament.
“Having players who don’t normally play there has helped us whenever we needed it. Every time we replace them, they do their job,” Morales said. “We didn’t want them getting hurt, we wanted to get more wins with the whole team, but I think that prepared us and it showed with our conference record.”
Vazquez and Feliciano were major losses for the Aces early in the season, with the latter’s points still a big miss. UE relied on Feliciano for 15-20 points most nights, which forced more aces to replace his production. Madisyn Steele, Hannah Watkins, Emilee Scheumann and others produced in his absence. Kora Ruff, one of the top 100 rookies in the country heading into her freshman year, averaged more than 10 assists per set.
UE split their production, although Vazquez and Cardona are the most consistent offensive threats.
“We have good players who can do the job for her or for every position,” Vazquez said. “We fixed a few things and now it works.”
Morales, Vazquez on international experience and how it helps the EU
For much of the season, Morales coached the Puerto Rico national team.
“I always dreamed of representing Puerto Rico when I was a player,” he said. “When I started coaching it was of course my dream and I never said no when they called me up for the national team. It’s something I felt I had to do.”
Even when he was away in international competition, he followed the Aces. While in the Netherlands, he woke up at 2 a.m. to watch his team’s matches. He spoke to players and coaching staff every day and after games.
“I wasn’t there, but it’s almost like I was there, and I think the girls felt that,” he said. “We are in the right place at the right time.”
Before the start of the season, Vazquez was with the national team and brought that experience to the EU. She said playing with such quality players has helped both in volleyball and in life, and that experience has helped with the Aces this season.
“I learned new systems and everything. Watching other teams, like pro girls, inspired me a lot,” she said. “It was my first time there with the national team. I was nervous, I was a bit stressed. … I know (Morales) trusts me, it was really helpful.”
Missouri Valley Conference Volleyball Tournament Support
The Aces will face Bradley at 3 p.m. Sunday in Game 1 of the opening round. The winner will face fourth seed Southern Illinois.
Here is the complete program:
Sunday, opening round
- No. 5 Evansville vs. No. 8 Bradley, 3 p.m.
- No. 6 Valparaiso vs. No. 7 Murray State
- No. 4 Southern Illinois vs. Winner of Evansville/Bradley, 3 p.m.
- No. 3 Illinois-Chicago vs winner of Valparaiso/Murray State
- No. 1 Northern Iowa vs. No. 1 quarter-final winner, 3 p.m.
- Drake No. 2 vs. Quarterfinal Winner No. 2, 6 p.m.
- Winners of the two semi-finals, 4 p.m.