HOUGHTON - During a fourth-set timeout Saturday, Michigan Tech head volleyball coach Matt Jennings tiptoed up to freshman right-side hitter Sylvie Rokosh, pointed his finger at her arm and made a sizzling sound.
It was a lighthearted moment with a bit of truth - Rokosh scorched the Ohio Dominican Panthers for 20 kills and a .594 hitting percentage as the Huskies won their fourth match in five tries, 3-1 (20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-18) at the SDC Gym.
There were lots of smiles for Tech (9-15, 4-7 GLIAC), which had its first perfect weekend in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play since Sept. 11-12, 2009.
Michigan Tech’s Sylvie Rokosh goes on the attack during Saturday’s GLIAC?volleyball match against Ohio Dominican at the SDC?Gym. Teammates Kienna Sharp (10)?and Madeline Haben cover the block. Rokosh had a match-best 20 kills as Tech won the match 3-1. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"Today was just confidence. Everyone believed in each other, there was so much trust on the floor, and it flowed. It was really nice to see from everyone," said Rokosh, from Calgary, Alberta.
At 6-foot-2, Rokosh is the team's tallest player and was recruited as a middle blocker. However, a move to the right side has simplified her responsibilities and given her a chance to focus on using her significant offensive abilities.
"The right side keeps the game at a narrower focus. It allows her to see the court more," Jennings said.
Rokosh was complimentary of the game plan and the work of her setter, junior Madeline Haben, but even she has been a little surprised that success has come this early in her career.
"I should have high expectations for myself, but at the same time, being put on the right side and being able to excel like I have I'm shocking myself a little bit."
It didn't start out nearly as happy for the Huskies. Coming off a five-set win over Tiffin the night before, Tech got aced on the first two points and got mired in a 17-8 hole, coming no closer than five points to the Panthers the rest of the first set.
"We always talk about fast feet. I didn't think we started very sharp and we looked slow," Jennings said.
Tech caught on in the second. Though it didn't mount a big run for a while, it ensured ODU went one-and-done on 12 of its first 13 rotations. Aces from Haben and Ciara Sebelius helped Tech expand its lead to 21-13, and though ODU picked it up enough to scare Jennings into calling timeout, Tech finally put the set away on its fourth try on a Panther ball-handling error.
Jennings noted Tech has struggled in third sets this season, but it was sharp coming out of the break, taking a 5-1 lead with help from back-to-back Rokosh kills. The teams exchanged late runs, with the Huskies going from 19-14 up to 21-20 down to 23-21 up. ODU closed within one, but another Rokosh kill established a set point. Jennings sent Sebelius in to serve for Shelby Jones, only to have to undo the move when the referee ruled the substitution illegal. Jones went back to the service line...and cued up a set-winning ace.
"I joked with Shelby that, 'Actually, that's what I really wanted to do,'" Jennings said.
Rokosh torched the Panthers for seven kills in the final set, which was essentially over after a seven-point run on Haben's serve (which included two Rokosh kills and the previously mentioned 'heat check') made it 14-5.
Rokosh finished it off with kill number 20 on match point.
"She is growing by the minute as a player and a young woman. I'm very proud of her. All the credit goes to her, but we're happy with how she really adjusted to the position change," Jennings said.
Rokosh wasn't the only freshman to have a solid performance. The Husky defense was designed to channel many attacks toward libero Jackie Aird, who responded with a match-best 22 digs. The Huskies also got 12 kills from Jones, plus 40 assists and four aces from Haben.
Tech, now tied with ODU and Walsh for 11th of 16 in the GLIAC, has its final road trip of the regular season next Friday and Saturday at Ferris State and Grand Valley, both teams in the top four. However, the two-win weekend has given the Huskies confidence for the stretch drive.
"We're a good team and when we believe and play with some confidence, we have the tools to beat anyone on any given day," Jennings said.