HOUGHTON - After 13 straight road matches and more than 6,000 miles traveled, the Michigan Tech volleyball team could not be happier to finally be at home for Saturday and Sunday matches at the SDC.
"The great part is and the testament to the group's character, I haven't heard a lick of complaining," Huskies coach Matt Jennings said. "We have not considered being on the road as much as we have as an excuse.
"We're thrilled to be home this weekend, but that doesn't make Wayne State and Findlay any easier."
Particularly coming off Tuesday's 3-0 loss at Northern Michigan - a match in which Jennings said Tech "simply did not show up" - the Wayne State Warriors (10-3, 5-0 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) are a tough opponent to kick things off in front of the home fans at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"They're an excellent blocking team," said Jennings, who pointed to Wayne's league-leading 3.16 blocks per set (second best is Hillsdale's 2.67; Tech averages 1.66). "I do think we can win the ball control game if we're determined and stay focused in serve receive. We'll have to match their offense."
That's a task that will be particularly challenging since the Warriors are surrendering a .093 hitting percentage, by far the best in the league.
Northern Michigan is second (.119), followed not too far after in third place by Sunday's 3 p.m. Tech opponent, Findlay (.134), which is 6-6 overall and 2-3 in the league.
Tech's offense is third worst of 16 GLIAC teams with a .130 average hitting percentage, and to change that, the Huskies will try to return the focus to their side of the net almost exclusively. They'll have even more incentive to keep that focus on themselves considering the Oilers' inconsistent tendencies.
"They're a hard team to tell at this point," Jennings said. "They're all over the place, and that's probably to their credit."
Sophomore Shelby Jones and freshman Sylvie Rokosh have been particularly bright spots recently for the Huskies on offense, combining for exactly half of the team's kills (39 of 78) over its last three matches (0-3 loss at NMU, 3-0 win at Lake Erie and 0-3 loss at Ashland).
"I think the key is making sure I focus on one or two things per match, making sure I work on them and stay on myself," said Rokosh, who, despite her first-year status, is playing a key middle blocker role for the Huskies. "It's nice to be home and I'm excited to actually have our first home game."
Jennings said Rokosh is the most underdeveloped freshman on the team, but her sheer athleticism, height, wingspan and aggressiveness have given the coaches plenty of tools to work with, and they've already seen impressive growth.
"She has so much untapped potential and with a player like that you tend to be able to see the incremental improvements much more quickly," he said.
Tech will hope to show that same kind of rapid improvement against two tough opponents this weekend, and the team hopes a nice crowd will be awaiting them when they finally step on the SDC Gym floor Saturday afternoon.
"It's long anticipated," Jennings said. "I'm excited for the girls to be able to play on the court that they work so hard on every day in practice."