Statement made: Huskies sweep Lakers to advance in GLIAC Tournament
HOUGHTON — As recently as Saturday, the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team was scratching their collective heads. They were down 0-2 to a Northwood team they swept earlier this season at home. They had, in fact, lost five straight matches going back to Friday’s sweep at the hands of top-seeded Ferris State.
Things were even worse, given that the Huskies were playing the Timberwolves without junior middle Emilia Widen.
They fought back to win the next three sets Saturday and then carried that momentum into their GLIAC Tournament opener Wednesday against the seventh-seeded Grand Valley State Lakers, another team they swept at home earlier this season.
The second-seeded Huskies dominated the Lakers at times Wednesday, winning 25-15, 25-23, 25-23. Much of that came off the heels of the efforts of freshman middle Janie Grindland and her partner-in-crime, junior Rachel Ping. Grindland racked up six blocks and five kills while Ping added six kills, two blocks and two aces.
Grindland, who looked, at times, out of sorts against the Timberwolves, showed incredible poise for a player who has seen action in just 37 sets this season.
“Going out there after not playing all season (is hard),” said Grindland. “The team having my back the whole time gave me the motivation to go out there and do my best.”
Her efforts were not lost on coach Matt Jennings, who was excited with the efforts of the youngster.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her,” said Jennings. “Both middles stepped up huge here tonight. For a freshman to come in like that…knowing that she was going to get the call in her first playoff game as a freshman, to come up with what she did tonight, I could not ask for more.”
Grindland racked up three blocks in the first set before picking up three more in the second at a time that the team needed a spark. Trailing 20-19, she made two consecutive blocks as part of a three-point charge that followed an earlier three-point charge for the Huskies, and that helped force Lakers coach Deanna Scanlon to call a timeout to get her girls refocused.
From there, Grindland felt more comfortable the longer the match went.
“My team helped me out the whole way, showing me the ropes,” said Grindland. “We have been working on our blocking this past week. After that first block, I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this.'”
The Huskies, who jumped all over the Lakers thanks to some early serves from Ping that included an ace just three points into the first set, then used an eight-kill set from sophomore outside hitter Olivia Ghormley in the third to seal the win.
Ghormley started slowly with just four kills in the first set, but then she added five more in the second before breaking out in the final set for a game-high of 17.
“Tonight, I thought we played super-clean for the most part,” said Ghormley.
“I think that having the confidence of the team behind me really helps me put away the ball. Knowing that Laura (DeMarchi) has the confidence to set me the ball, and knowing that my teammates are opening seams for me to hit the ball, is really helpful to me.”
With the loss of captain MacAuley Peterson to injury early in the season, Ghormley has had to step her game in her second full season in Black and Gold and she has done just that, averaging 4.72 kills per set, which is fourth in the country.
“It couldn’t be happening to a better kid,” said Jennings of his budding star. “She’s just a pleasant person to be around. She’s fiercely competitive out there. She’s working hard for the team. We are certainly appreciative of the work she has done for us.”
The Huskies closed out the final set in much the same way they started the match, with strong serving from sophomore Anna Jonynas. Jonynas came into Wednesday ranked seventh in aces with 55 on the season. While she added just one to that total, she proved difficult for the Lakers to deal with throughout the night as the Huskies worked hard to keep the ball away from their top hitter, Staci Brower, who was held to 11 kills in the match.
With the win, the Huskies advance to face Davenport, who squeezed out a 3-2 victory at Ashland. The Huskies had to fight for a 3-1 win over the Panthers earlier this season at home as the Panthers’ block gave the Huskies fits.
The Huskies and Panthers are set to face off in the second semifinal match with a start time of 5:30 p.m. in Big Rapids.
Top-seeded Ferris State and Saginaw Valley State will meet in the other semifinal at 3 p.m.