Huskies sweep Mustangs to open volleyball season
HOUGHTON — When Michigan Tech volleyball head coach Matt Jennings addressed his All-GLIAC setter for the final time Thursday evening, he had one simple message for her: it was time for her to take control.
Junior Laura De Marchi took what Jennings said to heart, and with match point on the line, she “dunked” the ball just over the net. The No. 9 Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs’ back row attempted to return the shot, which then sailed past the back line of the Huskies, giving the hosts a 25-23, 26-24, 25-17 win to open the season at home in their opening game of the Keweenaw Volleyball Classic.
For the Huskies (1-0 overall), the win was as much an opportunity to shake off a loss in the NCAA Midwest Regional to Lewis as it was a chance to start the 2019-20 season on the right foot.
“We ended the season in the tournament against a good team and we weren’t playing our best at the end,” said Jennings. “I think all offseason we were looking forward to coming together this year and getting this started. I don’t know that I can think of a better way to start than the way we did tonight.
“The way we played, yes, we have things to work on. We let them back in at certain times, but we were tough at big points in the match. We made big plays and to beat a team like that, in three on your home court, to begin the season, certainly is a good thing.”
With a deep returning roster, the Huskies felt coming into Thursday’s matchup that they had the ability to keep the Mustangs (0-1 overall) on their heels if they could remain aggressive on the serve. senior middle Rachel Ping got things started quickly for the Huskies as she racked up three of her match-high five aces to help the Huskies to a 7-1 lead in the first set.
For Ping, the chance to affect the game with her serve made her feel good about her game.
“I think we really tried to go after the ball and just go for aggression,” she said. “It felt really good. It was nice to see that everybody kind of just went after it.
“We didn’t let up. I think that’s really what gave us the competitive edge in that match because towards the end, we were just just keeping them out of system and just keeping them on their heels and just staying on the pressure.”
Later trailing 10-4, the Mustangs climbed all the way back to even at 22-22 and again at 23-23. Junior outside hitter Anna Jonynas shut the door for the Huskies at that point getting a key kill off a Mustangs defender and giving the Huskies the momentum they needed to finish off the set.
Jonynas continued to build off that strong finish by coming up with key passes and kills in the second set as the Huskies often found themselves trading points with the Mustangs. She finished her night with a team-high 11 kills.
“To be completely honest, I think we all kind of felt like a calm being like we knew that we could take care of business the way that we have,” Jonynas said. “I think that last year, we also showed that when we came back.”
Jennings was proud of the way Jonynas found ways to make plays throughout the night.
“She does she does everything pretty darn well for us for six rotations,” said Jennings. “(She had) big swings at big moments tonight. First set, second set, she kept us in it. She had some big swings that were very clutch for us.
“She makes it look pretty easy, but some of those shots aren’t very easy. Those are those are clutch shots.”
While he gushes about Jonynas’ offensive ability, it is her defensive play that makes what he feels is the difference in a match.
“Her passing is one of her greatest assets and makes everything happen for us,” he said.
The Huskies trailed 23-21 in the second set when junior outside hitter Olivia Ghormley brought a ball down into a place that Mustangs could not recover from, which evened the set at 23-23. From there, the Huskies fought hard with De Marchi picking up a late kill that gave the Huskies a 25-24 advantage before her teammates finished the job.
In the third set, the Huskies hit .333 for the set and forced the Mustangs into situations they could not recover from. With their opponents chasing volleys and serves, the Huskies’ offense forced the Mustangs into multiple hitting errors as the visitors hit just .043 in the set.
The Mustangs committed 15 service errors over the course of the match which not only stifled any momentum they had built up, but also kept them from being to slow the Huskies down for long.
Angela Young led the Mustangs with 14 kills, but none of her teammates had more than five.
The Huskies return to action Friday with matches against Mary at 1 p.m. and Minnesota-Crookston at 7 p.m.