Tech volleyball gains experience in loss to Duluth

HOUGHTON — Normally, if a team loses a volleyball match 23-25, 20-25, 20-25, it feels like a loss. The Michigan Tech Huskies lost to the No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs by those scores but, in reality, the Huskies gained much from the experience.

In the final match of the 2017 Keweenaw Volleyball Classic, the Huskies and Bulldogs entered the match undefeated with just two sets lost combined. Despite falling in straight sets, the Huskies held the Bulldogs to .212 hitting percentage for the night, something head coach Matt Jennings was very proud of.

“Duluth is a top 10 team in the country, but we were point-for-point there,” said Jennings. “We are happy with that. We kept them under .250 hitting and for a team like Duluth that can rattle off .300-.400 hitting just like that, that was pretty good.”

With a strong showing throughout the weekend, the Huskies will enter GLIAC play with a record of 5-3. Two of those losses came in five-set matches.

“Clearly there are things we need to work on,” said Jennings. “We just have to keep staying positive, keep working, working hard and finding ways to win close points.”

The match was also another opportunity for the Huskies’ four freshmen to assert themselves as consistent contributors early in the season. Outside hitter Olivia Ghormley tied for the team lead in kills (seven). Outside hitter Anna Jonynas added three kills and 13 digs. Setter Laura DeMarchi added four kills, 31 assists, six digs and a block. Megan Utlak picked up a service ace.

The young Huskies showed a lot of poise. At one point in the third set, Ghormley had three attacks before finally registering a kill. Jennings was pleased with the way she, and her teammates, fought for points throughout the night.

“There were a couple of plays in this match that I was proud of,” said Jennings. “I thought we won a lot of those. That’s exciting stuff and that is good to see. That’s the kind of play that starts a rally.”

DeMarchi, who has earned the starting job at setter for the time being, showed an ability to do a little bit of everything.

Seniors Elle Heinonen and Halie Hart led the way in the back row, with 22 digs and 10 digs, respectively. The duo are rubbing off on Jonynas, who spent a lot of time with them during the third set.

“Our senior leadership has really helped teach [the freshmen],” said Jennings. “Elle and Halie were just phenomenal in the back row. They kept a lot of balls alive.”

The Huskies led much of the first set, racing out to a 14-8 lead with kills from Ghormley, Laura Emmert and MacAulay Petersen.

The Bulldogs used timeouts to try to slow down what the Huskies were doing. After the second break, the Bulldogs chipped away at the Huskies’ defense, shaving that six-point advantage down to zero, 20-20.

With the Huskies trailing 22-20, DeMarchi dropped her first kill of the night into a soft spot in the Bulldogs’ defense. The Huskies evened the set at 22-22 and again 23-23, but could not get those last two points to earn the win.

In the second set, the Bulldogs raced out to a 9-3 lead while the Huskies struggled to recover from the end of the first set.

“I think [we had] a little letdown after dropping that first set,” said Jennings. “They kind of carried that momentum into the second set. I think we got a little easy in our serves. We did not miss too many, but we did put too many right in their lap.”

The Huskies were able to shave two points off the Bulldogs’ advantage, but could get closer until another kill from DeMarchi cut the deficit to 18-15. Jonynas added a kill in the middle of the Bulldogs’ defense to trim the lead to 20-17.

The Huskies again got within three, 23-20, when Mariah Sherman picked up a kill off a defender, but that was as close as they would get.

In the third set, the Huskies led 6-4, after Ghormley picked up her second kill of the set. The Bulldogs battled back, taking the lead 8-7 and never looking back. Petersen picked up two of her seven kills on the night in the latter stages of the set, but the Huskies could not catch the Bulldogs before two hitting errors gave the visitors the points they needed to seal the match.

The Huskies return to action on Friday when they host the improved Lake Superior State Lakers.