Michigan Tech volleyball is for real

Last season, those who followed the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team were captivated by their record-setting 10-0 start. Unfortunately, after that exciting beginning, the Huskies struggled to maintain that same level of excitement the rest of the season, going 9-12 over the remaining 21 contests.

The Huskies have only one GLIAC title, which they earned back in 1994. They have appeared in the NCAA Tournament eight times, most recently in 2009, which was before current head coach Matt Jennings was brought in to restore the program.

Proved by earning a GLIAC Tournament berth last season despite the second-half struggles, Jennings has already made huge strides in turning the Huskies fortunes around.

This season, they started 3-5, a far cry from the 10-0 start they had a year ago. Jennings, much like Huskies hockey coach Mel Pearson, often told me that he believed in his girls and what they had the potential to accomplish this season.

A 3-0 win over Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 17 should have proven he was right about just what this team was capable of. Instead, they lost four of their next five matches, including three matches where they lost 3-2. None of those matches hurt worse than a loss to the Northern Michigan Wildcats at Vandament Arena, where the Huskies led 2-0 before dropping the final three sets.

That match against the Wildcats might have been the lowest point in the season. They went 3-3 over their next six matches with wins over Walsh, Fairmont State and Quincy.

Then something special, and highly unexpected by those outside the program, happened.

The Huskies returned home on Oct. 21 to play the Lake Erie Storm. After two sets, the Storm led 2-0 and appeared to have all the momentum. Leading 5-4 in the third set, Huskies junior Halie Hart stepped in and served up six straight points. The Storm never recovered, and the Huskies went on to win in five sets.

Hart has been a big part of what makes the Huskies successful.

“She’s probably been the most underrated part of our success here,” said Jennings. “Her serving is deadly.”

From there, the Huskies defeated Ohio Dominican and Grand Valley State before defeating Northern Michigan, Northwood and Hillsdale in the past week.

The Huskies are on an impressive streak, having won seven of their last nine.

Jennings says the team is believing in their ability to play within the system he and his staff have been attempting to implement all season.

“I think we are playing pretty well,” said Huskies coach Matt Jennings. “They are playing together. They are playing with confidence. They are starting realize that our system and their effort, when put together, can succeed.”

Senior outside hitter Aubrey Ficek is very excited by the turnaround the Huskies have been having.

“It’s great,” said Ficek after defeating the Wildcats. “To come here as a freshman and see the program build over the years, it is rewarding to beat Northern at home. To have the home crowd here and the band here, it is just such a great atmosphere.”

With just two matches left in the regular season, the Huskies are 10-5 in GLIAC matches, putting them in a tie with the Cardinals for second in the North Division. The Cardinals come to the Wood Gym Friday night.

The Huskies are in a four-way tie for third in the overall GLIAC standings with the Cardinals, Ashland and Wayne State. The top four teams host a home playoff match. You can see where I am going with this, can’t you?

While the Huskies are playing the Cardinals, Ashland will face Wayne State. With a win, the Huskies could leap-frog two of the three other teams and find themselves in position to host a playoff match.

With a final match against Lake Superior State, who has yet to win a GLIAC match this season, the Huskies appear poised to potentially finish 12-5 in GLIAC play. Not bad for a team that was 4-4 in conference play on Oct. 7.

This team is certainly in the process of proving Jennings right.