HOUGHTON - Now that the losing monkey is finally off the Huskies' backs, the Michigan Tech volleyball team must work on putting together a consistent winning effort, starting on yet another long weekend road trip leading into a big rivalry road match at Northern Michigan Tuesday.
Last Friday's 3-1 win over Lake Superior State marked Tech's first Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference win since Oct. 29, 2010, which was also against the Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie.
"If you could have seen the look and the joy on their faces after Lake State, it made me a very proud coach," said Tech coach Matt Jennings, who was pleased with Tech's execution in the match, aside from a momentary stretch of lost focus in the third set.
"We've been waiting for it for a long time," junior outside hitter and team captain Jordanna Kero said. "It felt great, especially for the people last year that didn't get a GLIAC win."
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they couldn't make it two in a row in what Jennings coined a missed opportunity in a 3-1 loss against a "very beatable" Saginaw Valley State team.
"I'm perpetually unsatisfied, and I do think there was a missed opportunity against Saginaw, but with perspective, we did a lot of good things and got better from
the week before," Jennings said.
The Huskies had another intense week of practice as Jennings continued to challenge the team's mental toughness in preparation for yet another long road trip.
With trips to Pennsylvania, South Dakota and lower Michigan already logged, Tech (4-6, 1-1 GLIAC) left this morning for Ohio for matches against a strong Ashland squad (8-2, 1-1 GLIAC; picked sixth in preseason GLIAC poll) and a struggling Lake Erie team (2-5, 0-2 GLIAC; picked 16th).
"I watched a lot of film on Ashland. They're a talented team, but we're going to really try to exploit their front row," Jennings said.
"They're very, very strong offensively in the front row, but I think defensively they're vulnerable."
Eagles senior Brittany Snider leads the GLIAC with 146 kills and 4.29 kills per set this year, which will certainly pose a challenge for Tech, but Jennings feels his team's athleticism, ball control and aggressive play at the net can pose an equally strong challenge to the hosts.
Lake Erie, on the other hand, was picked last in the GLIAC preseason poll, the only team receiving fewer votes than Tech.
"I do think we're the better team, but we have to show up and prove it," Jennings said.
Even though Tech has already defeated teams better than the Storm this year, the Huskies know they can't take for granted a chance at victory - especially with a chance at revenge for last year's five-set Lake Erie win.
"Lake Erie is one of those where we're really working on fine-tuning our game and focusing on getting it done not letting a match slip from us," said Kero, whose 114 season kills are second only on the team to Shelby Jones' 127.
Regardless of what happens in Ohio, the Huskies won't have long to dwell on the result, as they'll return to Houghton around 5 a.m. Sunday, have practice and classes Monday, classes Tuesday morning and depart for Marquette to face the Wildcats Tuesday night.
Jennings admits NMU has Tech's number right now, but he hopes the short time span prevents the players from building up the rivalry in their minds, or from recalling that the Huskies, who are 4-17 in their last 21 matches against NMU, haven't won in Marquette since 1994.
"Here's the great thing: If we can compete and put ourselves in a chance to win that match, that could be a turning point for this squad," Jennings said. "I look at it as an opportunity to make a dramatic step up, and that's my goal."
After Tuesday's match at NMU, the Huskies will finally return home next weekend after opening the season with 13 straight road matches.
Tech will host Wayne State and Findlay on Sept. 29 and 30.
But, the homestand will be short lived. The Huskies head back to Ohio the following weekend, and Illinois the weekend after that. After persevering through all that travel, though, Tech will play seven of its last nine regular season matches in the friendly confines of the SDC Gym.
"If we can get through this, as long as we're getting a little better every weekend, chip away at teams we ought to beat, steal one from a team that's a little more well-rounded, we're going to be right in it," Jennings said. "Then we're going to have a nice set at home. I just hope our home court doesn't feel like an away court by the time we get to it."