Michigan Tech sweeps Tiffin to advance to GLIAC semis

Michigan Tech’s Lauren Emmert swings against Tiffin, Wednesday, in a GLIAC quarterfinal match at the Wood Gym. Tech advanced with a sweep and will face Northern Michigan in Ferris State at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — It was fitting Wednesday night that the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team ended their GLIAC quarterfinal match when senior middle blocker Lauren Emmert’s serve was too much for Tiffin Dragons libero, Taylor Lattimore, to handle, ending the match in the third set.

It was one of 11 aces the Huskies racked up as they dispatched the Dragons, 25-22, 25-18, 25-16, at the SDC Wood Gym.

Emmert closed the match with six of her game-high 13 kills and both of her aces as the Huskies turned a 10-9 deficit into a nine-point victory in that third set. She was quick to point out that it was her teammates that set up all of her scoring situations throughout the night.

“Laura [DeMarchi] was doing a great job of setting everyone,” said Emmert. “[Tiffin’s] blockers didn’t know where to go. The passers were always allowing Laura to be in system, and it was just everyone working together.”

Emmert was dominant throughout the night, hitting .684 for the match, picking up two block assists and adding three digs. More importantly for the veteran, she was proud to be a part of the first home playoff match since 2008.

“It means a lot, especially from where we came in as freshmen to now. Every year we have always improved,” said Emmert. “This is just another sign of how much we have improved.”

The end of the match mirrored the opening of the first set as DeMarchi, the freshman setter, rattled off two aces to get the Huskies going. When the night was over, the Huskies had racked up 11 total aces, which put tremendous pressure on the Dragons’ Lattimore, who came into the night as arguably the best libero in the conference this season.

In head coach Matt Jennings’ opinion, the Huskies performed almost exactly how he and his staff drew up their game plan.

“I am happy with the three-set win,” said Jennings. “To advance in the playoffs was our goal, and we did it here.”

Emmert’s third-set heroics was a key reason the Huskies finished as strongly as they did, and Jennings was quick to praise his senior for her efforts.

“Man, she had a match,” said Jennings. “She’s a darn good player…We saw a mismatch there at the net, and we just tried to take advantage of it.”

The Dragons, who came into the match having won their last six matches in a row and eight of their last nine, never were able to adjust to the Huskies’ attack. To make matters worse, they also struggled to find holes in the Huskies’ defense after they made adjustments late in the first set.

Senior libero Elle Heinonen and senior defensive specialist Haley Hart were instrumental in digging up the majority of the Dragons’ attack attempts. Jennings felt the pair, along with freshman defensive specialist Megan Utlak and freshman outside hitter Anna Jonynas, were difference-makers throughout the night.

“The backcourt in volleyball is maybe like the offensive line in football,” said Jennings. “The part of the game that doesn’t get a ton of attention. It’s not a glamorous; not as shiny.

“They put in a lot of hard work. It’s not easy to do what they do.”

Heinonen picked up a game-high 18 digs while adding three aces. She and her teammates worked hard to make sure they did not have the types of errors Wednesday that they suffered through when facing the Dragons earlier this season in a 3-1 victory.

“I think, going in, we had adjusted our game plan to what we had erred on earlier in the season,” said Heinonen. “Everyone on the team stuck to that game plan and executed really well, which led to us taking over.”

Heinonen was proud of her backcourt teammates, who combined to keep things tough for the Dragons.

“Having so many strong defenders really makes it hard for teams to score,” said Heinonen. “It leads to teams getting frustrated and it allows our hitters and setter to be in system.”

GLIAC SEMIFINALS

With the win, the Huskies advance to a semifinal matchup on Saturday at Ferris State with the Northern Michigan Wildcats, who defeated Davenport, 3-1, on Ferris State’s campus.

The two teams split their regular season matches, each winning matches in the other’s gym. The Wildcats enter the match as the nation’s leading blocking team, averaging 2.97 blocks per set.

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