Pohland developing into key contributor for Michigan Tech volleyball

HOUGHTON – The Michigan Tech Huskies’ volleyball coach Matt Jennings refers to the position of setter as the quarterback of the offense. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to a hockey team’s captain, superstar, and top playmaker all rolled into one. A setter has to serve the ball, receive the ball, receive a pass, make a pass, set up either a middle or outside hitter for the kill, or even get the kill themselves. Oh, and they need to know where everyone is on the court, since they will decide where the ball is going once it is in their hands.

Jennings suggests it is both a blessing and a curse to play the position, especially given what his scheme demands of such a player.

Fortunately, he has found a player who is a perfect fit for all of this in junior Rachel Pohlod. All he had to do was return to his old stomping grounds of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“It’s clear, once you know what you are looking at, that Rachel is a special athlete,” said Jennings. “Any coach would want that kind of athleticism on their team. When you consider the importance of the setter position, it becomes even more clear that someone playing that position is capable of doing things other people simply can’t.”

When he first approached her about plying her trade at Michigan Tech, Pohlod had to admit, she did not even know where the Upper Peninsula was, let alone have any interest in traveling so far from home. However, once she decided to take that leap, she quickly discovered that the school was the right fit for her.

“When he started recruiting me, I looked at it on the map and said, ‘No way,'” said Pohlod. “It’s way too far. The more I did some research on it, I found out it was a really good engineering school, and that it would be kind of cool and fun to go someplace I had never gone before. It was kind of a big leap of faith for me.”

Though she was recruited as a setter, Jennings and his staff already had a senior setter on roster in Madeline Haben. A fifth-year senior, Haben turned out to be a great teacher, mentor, and friend for Pohland.

“I had a great senior setter to follow and to watch how she ran things and learn a lot from,” said Pohlod of Haben. “I did a lot of setting drills with her so physically I watched and worked with her. Watching her lead the team and watching her discipline the team and encourage the team was something that I really learned. I am trying to implement that now that I am in a leadership role.”

With Haben able to play a full final season, Pohlod was slotted in on the back line, rather than as the setter, giving her a chance to adjust to the speed and strength of the college game. The experience proved very valuable as she was able to focus on playing defense, which also allowed her to get a sense for how the game progressed from the backcourt to the net, something that would come in handy once she took the reigns of setter the following season.

As a sophomore, Pohlod saw action in 20 matches. She picked up 69 kills, 585 assists, 200 digs, and 19 service aces. This season, she has seen action in all 18 matches and has 69 kills, 649 assists, 180 digs, and 17 service aces.

With an assists-per-set average of 11.59, she ranks second among Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference setters and 10th in the NCAA. Her 11.52 assists-per-set in GLIAC play is also second only to Findlay’s Hailee Olson.

Her 649 overall assists are good for third among GLIAC setters while her 311 in conference play is sixth-best.

She is also 10th in overall hitting percentage in the GLIAC at 33.5 percent. Her 35.3 percent hitting percentage in conference play is good for ninth. Her hitting percentage is better than Sylvie Rokosh (20.5) and Aubrey Ficek (22.8)

Her 17 overall service aces are 19th best in the GLIAC and tops on the team. She also ranks 17th in overall service-aces-per-set with 0.30.

Her 180 digs is good for second on the team behind Jacqueline Aird, who recently broke the school record for career digs.

Jennings has often been quick to compliment his starting setter for her leadership on and off the court, but what impresses him most is that she has such a feel for his strategies, that he now feels comfortable leaving things in her hands at times, as often they are on the same page strategy-wise.

“I’ve learned, from mistakes as well…I know that, at some point, I just have to let her go, let her do her thing,” said Jennings. “She trusts her own instinct. When she is doing that, we’re typically on the same page anyway.”

Despite her individual accolades, Pohlod was just as proud of her teammates for their efforts in their quick start to the season. The Huskies started the season 10-0, breaking a school record.

Now 14-4, Pohlod and her teammates know that the GLIAC playoffs are in reach. However, with several tough opponents yet to come, she knows not to look too far ahead.

“I think everyone has that mentality that we are not satisfied yet,” said Pohlod. “We have to appreciate how we have done, but we also have to keep going. I think everyone is on the same track there.”

The Huskies return to action this weekend in Aurora, Illinois, where they will take part in the Midwest Region Crossover. As part of the tournament, they will get a second chance at UW-Parkside, the first team to beat them this season.