HOUGHTON - After splitting four matches in Pennsylvania last weekend to open the season, the Michigan Tech volleyball team has four more matches on another long trip, to South Dakota, this weekend.
After flying back Sunday from Pittsburgh, having Monday off, practicing on the first day of Tech classes Tuesday and leaving for Spearfish, S.D., Wednesday afternoon, it's been a busy start to the season, but Huskies coach Matt Jennings likes most of what he's seen so far.
"There were times I thought we played excellent and I thought there were some moments we kind of got in a rut and forgot the process," Jennings said. "The reality is we were four points away from being 4-0. There's no doubt in my mind those five-set losses will serve as a valuable asset going forward.
"The exciting thing about last weekend is if that's our starting point and we continue to get better every weekend, it could be a good run at it here."
Jennings even felt Tech outplayed Cedarville and Indiana (Pa.) overall, but got outplayed at the wrong time and in the key moments. Those are just the kind of bumps in the road he expects for a team relearning how to win.
Untimely errors are something Jennings believes he and assistant coach Nic Paquiz can fix, and developing continuity among a stable starting lineup will certainly help.
Setter Madeline Haben (125 assists), defensive specialist Jacqueline Aird (51 digs) and outside hitters Jordanna Kero (46 kills) and Shelby Jones (44 kills) are all coming off a big weekend for Tech, and the Huskies will look to them to lead again.
"It was one of my best weekends for sure, and I'm hoping I can continue that for the whole year," said Jones, just a sophomore who had a 21-kill performance against IUP. "Overall it gave us a good starting point. We just have to be focused through the whole match and not let the end get away."
Jennings has been preaching taking one point at a time and consistent effort, which the team will need to succeed at the Black Hills State Tournament this weekend.
The Huskies, who will practice tonight in South Dakota and get a tourist stop in at Mount Rushmore, open against Augustana (S.D.) at 1 p.m. Friday. The Vikings are from the highly competitive Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with teams like five-time defending national champion Concordia (St. Paul) and No. 6 Minnesota Duluth.
"I think Augustana will be our greatest challenge," Jennings said. "If we can hang in there with them, I think it'll be a successful weekend."
The Huskies don't know much about the other three teams - Colorado Christian (7 p.m. Friday), Briar Cliff (11 a.m. Saturday) and host Black Hills State (5 p.m. Saturday) - but they will have a chance to scout each opponent due to the tournament format.
Colorado Christian and Black Hills State play a similar style, according to Jennings, and Briar Cliff is an NAIA team.
"Our goal is to overcome a long road trip and reapply the things we've been working on," Jennings said. "I would be surprised if we're not competitive in every match."