HOUGHTON, Mich. – After a successful start to the 2018 season, the Michigan Tech volleyball team opens conference play traveling to take on Saginaw Valley State Friday and Lake Superior State Saturday.
Coming off a 3-1 performance at the Wildcat Open, highlighted by a 3-0 upset win over then-No. 1 Minnesota Duluth, Tech received votes in the latest AVCA Division II national coaches poll. Coupled with their 3-1 outing at the UAA Invitational that included a come-from-behind win over Alaska and a comeback from a 2-0 deficit to make it to the fifth set before losing to Alaska Anchorage, Tech's strong start to the season is a very encouraging sign for the rest of the season for head coach Matt Jennings.
"It was nice to see us come through there and play tough in high-pressure situations," said Jennings, who is in his seventh year and was named GLIAC Coach of the Year last season. "How we respond to a disappointing loss is just as important as what we take away from a big win. Remaining confident and determined, but staying loose, and being dedicated to improving each week will be required as we navigate going forward. We know that we're good, but we still have a long way to go and a lot to improve on. "
Returning a number of talented players, the Huskies have started the year off red-hot on offense. Tech is in the top five in most major offensive statistical categories. They rank second in attacking percentage (.244), kills per set (13.87), assists per set (13.03), and fewest attacking errors (150), and third in kills (430) and assists (404).
Tech also has a few players leading the conference in individual statistics. Sophomore outside hitter Olivia Ghormley leads the GLIAC in kills (133) and kills per set (4.29). Junior middle blocker Emilia Widen is fifth in hitting percentage (.328), and sophomore setter Laura DeMarchi ranks first in assists per set (11.44) and fourth in assists (309).
"We try to play fast and really push the tempo and work to dictate the pace of the game with our offense," Jennings said of his team's attacking prowess. "We've got a strong core of pin hitters that play with both speed and power, and our quality passing allows us to play in-system more and dramatically improves our ability to side out."
The Huskies will head downstate to take on Saginaw Valley State (6-2) on Friday (Sept. 7) before traveling back to the U.P. to square off against Lake Superior State (1-7) on Saturday (Sept. 8). The Cardinals, who tied for fourth in the GLIAC North Divisione, bring back returning All-GLIAC Honorable Mention outside hitter Sarah Tabit and 2016 All-GLIAC Second Teamer Tamara Heller. The Huskies defeated SVSU both times last season, 3-0 at home and 3-1 on the road.
As for Lake Superior State, who were picked to finish sixth in the Division in the GLIAC Preseason poll, bring back 10 underclassmen under their second-year head coach. Senior Paige Gotham, who led the conference in digs per set, and junior Amanda Reid, who finished second on the team in kills per set, headline their returning players.
With the tough slate of opponents to begin the season, Jennings believes his team is capable of meeting the challenge of a difficult conference.
"The GLIAC is an elite league that presents a different set of challenges and quality opponents every time we compete," says Jennings. "Rising to the challenge each time we play is a must and I think these first two weekends gave us the opportunity and take some valuable lessons with us into league play."
Jennings cites the Cardinals' size on defense and ball movement as reasons for their hot start, while he believes the Lakers' ability to extend rallies and force opponents into errors are reasons to be wary of them.
"Playing on the road at Saginaw and Lake State is never easy. Both teams play with a lot of confidence at home and are hard to beat on their home court."
Tech's match against Saginaw Valley State is scheduled to begin 7 p.m., while the opening serve at Lake Superior State is slated for 2 p.m. For links to live stat updates and a video stream, head over to the schedule page at MichiganTechHuskies.com.