HOUGHTON - Just days after ending what could be described as a turnaround season in his first year as Michigan Tech head volleyball coach, Matt Jennings recently announced the addition of four future Huskies who will begin their careers in Houghton next fall.
Aubrey Ficek (Lemont, Ill.), Rachel Pohlod (Gibsonia, Pa.), Jonna Villemure (Milford, Mich.) and Kendall Ward (Naperville, Ill.) become the newest additions to the team, which returns all its starters from this year's exciting season that saw the program improve their overall win total by 10 and their conference win total by seven, the most in the GLIAC.
"From the outset, assistant coach Nic Paquiz and I have set recruiting as one of our top priorities for this program's continued growth," said Jennings. "We felt that it was important to complement our young talent with a solid and well-trained 2013 class, thereby creating the core group that will have the opportunity to reshape us into a championship caliber team. Our 2013 roster will include a group of returners (all our starters) who are more experienced and confident as ever, and four newcomers that bring a great deal of success, talent, character and smarts with them to Michigan Tech. Now it's up to us to put it to good use. I am very much looking forward to it."
Aubrey Ficek, a 5-9 outside hitter, hails from Lockport, Ill., on Chicago's Southside. She has started for Lockport Township High School's varsity volleyball team for three years while earning consecutive all-conference and all-area awards in 2011 and 2012. Ficek led her 2011 squad to a regional championship in the Illinois High School Association Class 4A State Tournament with a standout season that included 327 kills, 251 digs, 39 solo blocks and 37 aces. A seven-year member of UNO Volleyball Club, Ficek brings a balanced game to the Huskies next season.
"Aubrey has a very well-rounded skill-set that will make her extremely valuable to our team," said Jennings. "She is aggressive at the net, as well as on defense. She has a strong jump serve and possesses a high volleyball IQ. Her passing allows her to be a legitimate six rotation player. However, her attitude and competitiveness is undoubtedly what makes her stand out. She's incredibly fun to watch compete. From the day we met Aubrey, we knew her energy and desire to get better would fit perfectly on this team. She has the ability to impact our program in more ways than one."
Ficek also brings very strong academic credentials with her to Michigan Tech. She is a member of the National Honors Society as well as the Spanish National Honors Society and plans on studying chemical engineering and Spanish. She chose Michigan Tech over Missouri S&T, Illinois Institute of Technology and Clarion.
Rachel Pohlod is a 5-7 setter from the greater Pittsburgh area who, this fall, led her Oakland Catholic High School team to its best season in school history. A four-year starter and three-time captain, Pohlod's senior campaign saw the Eagles go a perfect 12-0 in league play and qualify for the AAA Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League tournament for the first time in program history.
Pohlod started playing club for Renaissance VBC under Coach Brian Begor, and then moved to Pittsburgh Elite last season. Tech head coach Matt Jennings was her coach at Pittsburgh Elite for the start of the 2012 club season, before leaving Pitt to come coach the Huskies.
"Having worked with Rachel on the court and being a part of her development as a young setter, I am totally confident that she has what it takes to be a great setter in our league," said Jennings. "She already has a feel for my system and the way we run the offense, which should help in the transition to this level of play. Her overall athleticism is very impressive. She's fast, she jumps very well and is strong. That said, her understanding of the game and ability to dictate flow may be her greatest asset for such a young player. I'm so excited to work with Rachel again. If she continues on the track she's on, she could be a major player for us."
In her first and only year on the Oakland Catholic track team, Pohlod qualified for the 2012 Pennsylvania State Meet as a member of the 4x100 relay team. She is equally serious about her studies as she is with her sports, having made high honors every year while being a member of both the JOA and National Honors Societies. She plans on studying mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech. She also considered Lafayette (NCAA Div. I), Clarion, Mercyhurst and Holy Cross (NCAA Div. I) during the recruiting process.
Jonna Villemure, a Milford, Mich. native, is a 5-8 setter that recently was named to the 2012 all-region team downstate. She is a two-time all-conference team member and finished her career at Milford High School fourth all-time in career assists (2,245). She was twice named team captain and was named team MVP and Maverick of the Year in 2011.
Villemure plays for A2 Volleyball Club out of Ann Arbor under the guidance of Jeff Stark and Craig Boller, an assistant coach at the University of Michigan.
"Jonna adds a lot of depth to our roster, not to mention character and a winning attitude," said Jennings. "She is a fine setter, who plays solid defense and serves tough. She is very competitive and showed a sincere desire to be part of this program, two things we really look for. While very talented and athletic, her work ethic may be her greatest asset. We know what we're getting with Jonna. She comes in a bit raw, which in my opinion, is very exciting. I think she'll flourish in our gym and prove to be a valuable part of our program."
Villemure was named to the Academic All-State team in 2010 and 2012, and is a high honor role caliber student who plans on studying environmental science.
Kendall Ward is a 6-2 outside hitter from suburban Chicago. A three-year starter at Naperville Central High School, Ward has been competing in one of the most competitive areas for prep volleyball in the country. She led her team to a 28-9 record this season, which ended in the regional final of the IHSA Class 4A Tournament with a loss to the eventual state champion. The Redhawks tallied a 21-15 overall record during her junior season.
Ward will finish her club career with Club Fusion after spending several years playing at 1st Alliance. She began playing club at Sports Performance in seventh grade. All three programs are considered among the best in the Midwest and regularly place teams in the top-10 nationally. Her 1st Alliance 17 Black squad finished fifth overall at last summer's AAU National Championships in Orlando, Fla.
"Kendall is a special young lady who will add a great deal to the Michigan Tech family," said Jennings. "Not only is she a gifted volleyball player and an extraordinary student, she has the kind attitude any program would want part of their culture. We're lucky to have her as one of our own, and given her training and the level she'll be coming in at, I'd be surprised if you didn't hear her named mentioned early in her career. She's got great size, a fast arm, and knows how to score. Kendall is a great addition to our outside attack and we're looking forward to watching her grow into a potentially dominant player in our region."
A strong student with near perfect grades, Ward has made the Dean's List every year and is a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honors Society. Ward made academic all-conference all four years of high school and won her school's 4.0 award, as well. She plans on studying business and considered Bucknell (NCAA Div. I), Emory and Washington University (Mo.) during the recruiting process.