HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech volleyball fans never had a reason to be nervous Friday night, unlike Huskies senior setter Skylar Paffenroth.
Tech controlled all facets of its second-to-last home match, a 3-0 win over Lake Superior State (25-19, 25-17, 25-19), but Paffenroth saw her only action of the year serving to start the match after missing all season with a knee injury.
Still sporting a hefty knee brace and a noticeable limp, Paffenroth, as planned, was immediately substituted from the match to an ovation from the crowd.
"I just found out an hour before the game, and I was like 'Oh gosh.' It was kind of nerve-racking, but they all wanted to do it for me tonight so it was really special," Paffenroth said. "It was pretty emotional before the game. The girls put it out there for my last couple games, and it's meant a lot."
Playing for their only senior and channeling the momentum from last Saturday's 3-2 win over Hillsdale, the Huskies gradually pulled away without any hints of a Laker comeback in the first two sets, and weathered a brief rough start in the third set to convincingly clinch the match and season sweep over LSSU (4-24, 1-16 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).
"We played so calm and so confidently. There was never a doubt in my mind, or the team's that we were not going to win the game," said junior setter Maddie Haben, who paced Tech's well-rounded offense with 30 assists. "That was our most relaxed game we played all year."
The Huskies had four kills in the first set from Haben - all of the change-of-pace dump variety - and Sylvie Rokosh, four from Aubrey Havlichek in the second set and four third-set kills from middle hitter Kienna Sharp, who finished with a match-high nine.
"Our middles had a great match - and I thought that was a big difference," Tech coach Matt Jennings said. "We've been struggling a bit in the middle and relying on Shelby and Sylvie to take care of our offense, but Kienna really stepped up and that added a lot."
Tech's defense stepped up well, too, adjusting to Lake State's slower tempo and tallying six second-set blocks after not getting any in the first set. The Huskies outhit the Lakers .231 to .092 percent.
In the first set Tech slowly added to its lead, making it 4-3, 10-8, 14-11, 19-15, 22-17 and 25-19 with Haben putting down the clinching kill.
It was more of the same in the second set, with Tech's lead growing from 5-4 to 9-6 to 19-14 to 24-17 before Rokosh powered home the seventh of her nine kills, tying for the match high with Sharp.
The third set didn't start so easy for the hosts, though, as three Emily Snyder kills - she led the team with eight - and four Tech errors paced a 7-2 LSSU start.
"I was going to do what I could to make them realize they have to go out and get what they want," said Jennings, whose timeout set the tone for the rest of the set. "That's what a young team forgets sometimes. ... Nobody is going to give it to you, I don't care who you're playing."
But the Huskies took control immediately, scoring eight of the next 11 to tie the set at 10-10. The teams battled back and forth to a 17-17 tie, but Tech scored eight of the last 10 to seal the senior night win.
"We're playing good volleyball, and I'm probably most proud of the confidence they played with. Ups and downs, but they played steady, they played confidently and they took care of business," said Jennings, who spoke highly of the way Paffenroth handled herself after essentially losing her senior year before it ever started.
"I'm going to miss her. You talk about a model attitude, a model young woman, she's that - selfless, tough," he said. "You never want someone to be in that situation, but if someone had to be, I don't think we could have picked anyone who would have handled it with as much grace as she did."
Tech (11-19, 6-11 GLIAC) wraps up its volleyball season at 1 p.m. today at home against Saginaw Valley State.