HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team returned home after two tough tournaments, and opened the GLIAC portion of their schedule with a victory over the Grand Valley State Lakers. On Saturday, they had the script flipped on them in a three-set loss to the Davenport Panthers.
HUSKIES TOPPLE LAKERS IN THREE SETS
Going into Friday’s volleyball matchup against previously undefeated Grand Valley State, Michigan Tech coach Matt Jennings expected his team would have to battle for everything it earned, no matter what the final outcome was.
Three sets later, junior middle blocker Kaycee Meiners jumped into the air and knocked down the match-winning kill that earned the Huskies a straight-set victory, 25-21, 25-19, and 25-18.
For a Huskies team that was just 2-6 on the season coming into Friday, the win over the Lakers was a huge boost to team morale and momentum.
“This is a huge win for us, especially because we don’t have a lot of wins in our schedule right now,” Meiners said. “We play some really tough teams, now we’re coming into the GLIAC, playing one of the best teams in the GLIAC, and (we) beat them in three, is the best feeling ever.”
Meiners capped a huge performance for the Huskies (3-7 overall, 1-1 GLIAC) with the final kill of the match. She finished her night with 11 kills and hit .588 for the match. She also had one solo block and three block assists on the night.
“I just think I gained a lot of confidence in this past year, being the oldest middle on the team, and then having all the freshmen come in and be able to kind of help them out in the beginning,” she said. “I’m so proud of them tonight. They played so well. Just having the confidence, showing confidence helps them play better, so that helps me play better.”
Meiners was often flanked by freshmen Rachel Zurek and Tricia Kennedy. Zurek finished her night with seven kills and five block assists. Kennedy had five kills and three block assists.
Jennings feels that his trio of blockers can be a difference-maker for the Huskies, and Friday night they were just that. The Huskies combined for nine blocks in the match.
“I’m pretty sure that our middles, if you include the three of them, separate us, at times, from other teams,” he said. “You look at Kaycee, she’s just lightning quick, and she’s hard to stop. I mean, they had double block, couldn’t stop. When we get good first-touch, and we’re in-system, the three of them can do some damage. When we’re able to get Tess (Hayes) the ball, then she can make good decisions. I think the weapons are there for her to use.”
Hayes, the freshman setter, acts as a fourth member of the blocking core, and with the speed at which Meiners can play, Hayes can work her around the court, which changes attack angles and pushes defenses out of system.
While the Lakers (6-1 overall, 0-1 GLIAC) did a great job of keeping senior outside hitter Lindy Oujiri to just five kills, they could not find a way to build any momentum in their service game, as they finished the night with eight service errors.
“Winning the serve-pass game, to us, is going to be a primary goal every time,” said Jennings. “That means being really good in our serves, not just aggressive, and not just in, but hitting our zones and putting the ball in a place that we want to go so we can neutralize another team’s offense.
“That’s a really good offense. One of the best in the country, and our serving game did just that tonight. We were hitting our zones. We were hitting them. Once we got into rhythm serving, we were really going. Our passing on the other side of the net, we just kept on siding out.”
Along with the strong service game, the Huskies showed a much-improved defense, led by sophomore defensive specialists Alayna Corwin and Brooke Dzwik, and freshman libero Amelia Albers. Dzwik led the team with 13 digs, Albers had five, and Corwin had four.
“The backcourt feels really good,” said Corwin, a transfer from Marshall. “We’re very confident back there. We do a really good job of communicating. I think we had a little bit of disconnect at the beginning of the season. We’re all new, so it was a little bit tough just kind of making all the pieces work.
“Now all the pieces are kind of filling in. We’re doing a good job of communicating. We know our roles back there, and we know where to go, what we’re defending personally, and that kind of makes us kind of one unit. We feel like one unit now, and it feels really good.”
Lakers setter Jordyn Gates led all hitters with 13 kills on the night, with six coming in the final set to help her team turn a 15-5 deficit into a three-point one at 17-14 and against at 18-15, but that was as far as the visitors got before Meiners closed the door emphatically.
HUSKIES STRUGGLE IN LOSS TO PANTHERS
Saturday, despite 15 kills and a .308 hitting percentage from senior outside hitter Lindy Oujiri, the Huskies dropped their match against the Panthers in three sets. The Panthers won the first set 25-21, then the second set, 26-24, and the third set 25-21 again.
“A pretty disappointing match, as you can imagine,” said Jennings. “We frankly weren’t ready to play. Credit to Davenport for being ready to play, and doing what they needed to do to win.
“As we said in the locker room after the game, the players are responsible for executing, and I’m responsible for putting them into position to win, and to execute and be prepared. I think we fell short on both fronts there.”
Unlike against the Lakers, the Huskies never seemed to get comfortable with their game against the Panthers, which led to eight service errors and a lot of time spent out of system.
“Our serve-pass game changed dramatically,” Jennings said. “I thought we were poor in our serve-receive in the back court, and also in our serving.
“We missed way too many, and when we were serving in, they weren’t very aggressive or necessarily to the zones we wanted. On the flip side of that, I thought Davenport served very well, and had us scrambling in the backcourt in a way that really took us out of what we do.”
Oujiri did everything she could to keep the Huskies in the match. She had seven of her 15 kills in the second set, which helped drive the Huskies to force the set to extra points.
“Regardless of the numbers, Lindy’s going to give everything,” said Jennings. “She had a good match for us here.”
Meiners chipped in nine kills and Kennedy added five to round out the Huskies’ offense in the match. Despite the few positives, Jennings was disappointed the Huskies could not do more to support the efforts of Oujiri.
“I think between that and what Kaycc did, and Tricia probably too, number-wise, it was a collective,” he said, “we just fell short as a team. I guess it makes it a little more disappointing when you have a couple players really having good matches, and we didn’t have her back the whole time.”
The Huskies head out on the road this weekend to face Parkside on Friday at 7 p.m. and then Purdue Northwest on Saturday at 3 p.m.