The Valpo men’s basketball team made history in the Missouri Valley Conference this past weekend during the Arch Madness tournament in St Louis, MO. While they ultimately fell short to Bradley for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the team played four games straight, becoming the first team in Arch Madness history to advance to the title game from the opening round.
Coming in as the seventh seed, Valpo impressed many basketball fans as they secured a spot in the MVC title game against the Braves
Valpo started its tournament on Thursday against No. 10 Evansville, which the Crusaders won 58-55. During this game, Valpo became the first team in Valley tournament history to fail to hit a 3-pointer during the game.
Valpo then moved on to face No. 2 Loyola on Friday night. The Crusaders erased an 18-point deficit as senior Ryan Fazekas tied up the game with a 3-pointer with 10.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Valpo was able to pull through with a 74-73 win in overtime after junior Eron Gordon hit a layup assisted by senior John Kiser, advancing the team to the semifinals.
Valpo was able to secure a spot in the championship game with a win over Missouri State 89-82 on Saturday night. This marked Valley history as Valpo became the lowest seed to make it to the title game, where it fell short to No. 4 Bradley.
“It's just been fun. Playing with these guys has been fun,” Kiser said. “I gave it everything I could. I'm just going to leave it as it's been fun.”
Despite falling short of the MVC title, fans are proud of their team. Valpo student, senior Danny Dalenberg, made the drive to St. Louis, MO to support the team in the title game.
“To be the first Thursday team to make the championship of Arch Madness is an incredible accomplishment and one I will not soon forget,” Dalenberg said.
Dalenberg was not alone in this sense of pride. Sophomore, Diamond Morris, who attended all four Arch Madness games as a cheerleader, expressed her pride in the Crusaders.
“Overall I am very proud of the men’s basketball team. They proved that when working as a team they can beat their biggest competitors,” Morris said.
To fans, Valpo’s run during Arch Madness showed the rest of the Missouri Valley what the team was capable of. According to Dalenberg, the team’s run at Arch Madness showed what it meant to be a Crusader.
“Valpo played with incredible heart all weekend and fought every second for each other. There was never a moment of quit,” Dalenberg said.
According to Head Coach Matt Lottich, at a press conference following the championship game, the team played with heart and determination throughout the duration of the tournament.
“Very few people are able to do it [play with heart and determination] on a consistent basis and we got a locker room full of guys who just laid it all out there on the line,” Lottich said.
Lottich also pointed out the difficulties the team had to overcome to compete in the title game.
“Some of the adversity that we had to face to make this run, I mean obviously the four [games] in four [days] that's difficult,” Lottich said. “Javon, coming off of mono to have a performance like that. Ryan, really playing with one hand. John kiser, I mean there was a couple weeks ago where we thought he'd be done for the year with an ankle injury but I guess that's just how our group is made. This group fights and battles.”
Sophomore cheerleader Natalia Roder commented on the importance of this run as it proved Valpo as a team to beat for future seasons.
“Seeing our guys go out there and perform to their highest potential was great and I’m glad that the rest of the MVC saw our teams potential in this conference as well,” Roder said.
Despite falling short, coach Lottich, players, and fans alike are hopeful for the future seasons.
According to Fazekas, the seniors hoped to leave a positive impact for the young team.
“It's been an amazing journey with these guys especially this last weekend in the tournament. We surprised a lot of people. We tried to make a positive impact to get this team going in the right direction and I think we left some good footprints for them to build on,” Fazekas said.
Lottich credits the seniors for their lasting impact on the team.
“It didn’t come out our way today but the future looks pretty bright and I really think both John and Ryan really put their stamp on our program and they both should be very proud of that,” Lottich said.
According to Dalenberg, Valpo fans should be hopeful for next season.
“Although the run came up short, this team has an incredible future with young talent and a culture that has been built by outgoing seniors Ryan Fazekas and John Kiser. I love the Valparaiso community and cannot wait to cheer on the team after this year as an alumni,” Dalenberg said.