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College Volleyball: Tech wins, advances in GLIAC tourney

Michigan Tech’s Rachel Ping (4) hits the ball against Grand Valley State during the GLIAC tournament quarterfinal on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Houghton, Mich. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — For two sets, the No. 23 Michigan Tech Huskies women’s volleyball team looked like they were going to glide through their GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal match with the seventh-seeded Grand Valley State Lakers in the Wood Gym. When the dust settled, the Huskies emerged with a 3-1 victory, 25-16, 25-17, 20-25, 25-20, but it was far from easy.

The sixth-seeded Northern Michigan Wildcats defeated the third-seeded Ashland Eagles Wednesday night, forcing a rematch of U.P. foes in Saturday’s GLIAC Tournament semifinals on the campus of Ferris State.

Junior outside hitter MacAulay Petersen led the way with 20 kills, hitting .310 for the match. She was quick to point out the mantra the Huskies have been playing with all season long.

“I know this was a really big one for our team,” Petersen said. “We keep saying the road to a championship passes through Houghton, so I am glad we could come away with the win.”

Playing without standout setter Laura De Marchi, the Huskies put their offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Briana Sharkey. The Lodi, Wisconsin, native did not disappoint, racking up 49 assists, three kills, and one ace.

She also gained a valuable lesson in driving the Huskies’ offense in her first start in Houghton.

“For her to come out and play the way she did tonight, I’m just so happy for her,” Petersen said.

Huskies coach Matt Jennings loved the way Sharkey found her hot hitters when they were ready to make plays. He was also happy to see her make smart kills as well.

“I think last weekend she was overdoing that a little bit,” Jennings said. “The way that she trimmed that up and then applied it today was excellent. That’s the right balance of going to her hot hitters. She did a great job of finding her hot hitters today, not just the outsides, but (Rachel) Ping and Emilia (Widen) in the middle, really good job there. Knowing when to dump, and how to dump or where to dump at the right times was huge.”

Petersen was the recipient of Sharkey’s sets more often than not in the first two sets, and she used the opportunity effectively, racking up 13 kills in those sets.

For Petersen, the ability to score points was a huge relief. In the first two matches of the season, she had eight combined kills. She had not reached the 20 kill mark all season, so Wednesday’s breakout performance was just what she needed.

“A lot of it just has to do with the confidence that I’m getting from my teammates,” she said. “They’re just amazing, and always giving great feedback and helping me with whatever. I give a lot of credit to both Bri and Laura because they’ve that they’ve done a lot in helping me come this far.”

Jennings was proud of Petersen, and is pleased to see her starting to click, having picked up 48 kills over her past three matches.

“There isn’t a player on our team that’s a more team-first player and who’s done everything right,” he said. “Here’s a player who does everything right, works really hard, is a great player (and she) goes down with a terrible injury last year.

“The way she’s come back this season from start to finish has been just been inspiring. She has worked so hard for this.”

After cruising through the first set, the Huskies (22-6) needed a little bit of a jumpstart in the second second, and they got in the form of an early service ace by junior outside hitter Anna Jonynas. She added two of her nine kills in the match in the set as well.

“It’s really good to set the tempo and the momentum,” Jonynas said. “It was a really big part in this match against Grand Valley.”

The third-year starter was recognized before the match for reaching 1,000 digs in her college career. Wednesday, she added six aces and seven digs to her career totals, which helped lift the Huskies out of a rough stretch early in the fourth set.

“Anna does everything really well, all the little things,” said Jennings. “I would say (that in) the last couple weeks, teams have been putting a lot of pressure on her. The way she stepped up here tonight was a great example again of some upperclassmen leadership, great passing, the serving, the way she started the match for us was huge. She had a really good game, and it’s an all around game and we’re probably not where we are without her.”

After two strong sets, the Huskies came out strong at the beginning of the third set with an ace from Jonynas. Unfortunately, that was the only time they led in the set as the Lakers (13-15 overall) got some strong play from Jaeli Primus, who had six of her team-high 15 kills in the set.

In the fourth set, the Huskies found themselves behind again until Jonynas picked up back-to-back kills. From there, junior outside hitter Olivia Ghormley took over, getting four of her 10 kills in the match to help the Huskies seal the win.

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