Grindland excited for opportunity with Huskies

Photo submitted to the Daily Minini Gazette Northern Lights middle blocker Janie Grindland jumps up for a spike during an Amateur Athletic Union match during the 2017 season.

HOUGHTON — Much of the success head coach Matt Jennings and the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball program has had over the past four years has been due to the quality play of a pair of middle blockers in Lauren Emmert and Stephanie Dietrich. With both having graduated after the 2017 season ended, one question left on fans’ minds was who could fill that role in 2018.

Jennings feels he might have a freshman with a mixture of what Emmert and Dietrich did well in Janie Grindland. The Woodbury, Minnesota, native stands 6-foot-0, the same height as Dietrich.

The opportunity to step into a vacated role on a team on the rise was something that she could not pass up. It also helped that she was impressed by the team atmosphere she experienced on her campus visit.

“I really liked the team environment,” said Grindland. “Talking to the team on my first visit, I felt like they were all included, really involved and really nice.”

Jennings has spent time working with Grindland on her attack, hoping that she can prove to be an effective offensive threat like Dietrich was.

“Janie is fast offensively,” said Jennings “Her arm is very fast. She’s very quick into the ball.

“Defensively, she does a good job going side-to-side with her speed.”

Grindland does not carry the height of a Hayley Wickstrom or a Deja Brule, but she feels that she can use her smaller size to her advantage.

“I feel like, being a smaller middle, I can use my shots a lot more,” said Grindland. “A lot of the taller girls just hit over the block every single time. For me, it takes a lot more strategy and skill to see where the block is and hit around it, find the deep corners, and throw in a tip or a low shot every once and awhile. (I am) just trying to vary the speeds of the ball.”

Grindland’s high school team, the East Ridge Raptors, had struggled in recent years bouncing between coaches almost on a yearly basis. That constant turmoil led to issues in the locker room.

“I felt like there was a divide between starters and non-starters,” said Grindland.

She and her fellow upperclassmen worked hard to bridge that gap, and the results paid off during her final season. As a senior, she was part of a team that won its conference title for the first time in school history.

The experience was a thrill for Grindland.

“That was very exciting,” she said. “It was really fun to see, game by game, the team becoming more unified.”

Grindland, who served as a team captain, could really see how the team’s success rubbed off on her teammates.

“It was really fun to see how much fun we were having with the game while winning. I felt that the fun we were having, the better, more relaxed we played.”

She finished her season with 168 kills over the course of 97 sets. She also racked up 51 total blocks with seven of them as solos. Grindland also proved she could pass as necessary, picking up 15 assists.

Named All-Conference her senior year, Grindland was also recognized with a team honor, the Raptor Award, which is given out for leadership and commitment. Going through such a special season helped her learn how to be a leader on and off the court.

Grindland’s club team, the Northern Lights, also had a strong season, finishing third at the Amateur Athletic Union Nationals two years in a row.

“I really liked playing club because we got to travel all over the country, even out of the country,” Grindland said. “We went to Italy. We played there. It was good to play different competition.”

A student of the game, Grindland has proven to put that same dedication to work for her in the classroom. As a junior, she earned Academic All-American honors while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. She followed that up as a senior with Academic All-State recognition.

Jennings hopes that Grindland can continue to use her intelligence to her advantage and pick her spots at the college level. She has seen the effect of having an offensive middle on a team and looks to use that to her advantage.

“I feel like middles don’t get set as much,” said Grindland. “It’s just the way the position is. When you do get set and you get that big kill, it can be a gamechanger. It can turn the momentum on your side. It just really fires up the team. So I really being that person on the team.”