HOUGHTON - They could've settled for almost but instead, the Michigan Tech volleyball team turned Friday's near-victory over Northwood into the signature result they'd been looking for to kick off a new era.
The Huskies took down Hillsdale 3-2 (25-17, 25-12, 21-25, 17-25, 15-13) Saturday for their 10th and, thus far, most memorable win of the 2012 season.
"I think it just solidifies that this is a new program," setter Madeline Haben said. "This whole season is a rejuvenation of a program that hasn't lived up to its potential."
Michigan Tech players, from left, Kienna Sharp, Shelby Jones, Madeline Haben, Sarah Rasmussen and Aubrey Havlichek celebrate Jones's kill on match point during Saturday’s GLIAC?match against Hillsdale at the SDC?Gym. Tech won 3-2. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Though a 5-11 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record means the season will end next weekend, this victory, over a team fighting for a home match in the first round of the league tournament, is the kind that may resonate into 2013.
"We've had to find reasons to be confident," coach Matt Jennings said. "If you can't be confident after beating Hillsdale, it's never going to happen."
Tech doubled down on its encouraging, if unsuccessful, performance Friday, dramatically outplaying the Chargers in the first two sets before Hillsdale's elite colors began to show in the third and fourth. But when the match was on the line, Tech delivered, recording 12 kills against just two errors in the fifth and getting two big swings from players who will be counted on for years to come.
With Hillsdale serving for a chance to tie the fifth set at 13, Tech set up a push" play up the middle for right-side hitter Sylvie Rokosh. Haben's set was right in her wheelhouse, as evidenced by the audible roar Rokosh made as she pounded it straight to the floor.
On match point, Rokosh's turn came to serve. Perhaps still amped, she hit the serve long, but on the second attempt, the call went to sophomore Shelby Jones, who hit the ball off the side of the Chargers' double block for the match-winner.
"I saw there was a little seam, so I just went for the middle's arm, to hit it sideways and it just went there," Jones said.
Jones finished with 19 kills and Rokosh 17. Haben had 51 assists but wasn't just a distributor, repeatedly sucker-punching the Chargers with dump sets for seven kills of her own.
Defensively, Tech held its own, outdigging the Chargers 77-74. Freshman libero Jackie Aird posted 28 of those, with Haben and Jones adding 14 apiece.
The Chargers have won all or part of the GLIAC title in three straight seasons, but Haben stressed this win shouldn't be treated as an accident.
"We play our game, that's expected," the junior said. "We should play this way all the time. Thank God all our pieces were together today: offense and defense."
Tech showed its quality from the start, winning the first four points and trailing only once in the first two sets: down 1-0 to start the second. While the Huskies hit .276 and .278 in the first two sets, the Chargers floundered. They hit minus-.053 in the first and gave up runs of five, six and five points in the second, hitting a barely improved .027.
"They only got 12 points. That doesn't happen," Haben said. "Everything was what we wanted it to be."
After the second-set break, Hillsdale replaced its libero to steady its defense and looked a little more like itself. The Chargers pulled away late to win the third set and led the fourth wire-to-wire.
"Sets three and four, what caught up with us was the unforced errors," Jennings said.
Forced or unforced, Tech didn't commit an attack error after the sixth point of the fifth set.
"I don't think there was a magic potion or magic trick we used here. We just executed how we wanted to," Jennings said.
Tech will try to build off this one with a pair of home matches to conclude the season, starting Friday night against Lake Superior State.