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Huskies volleyball eyeing historical season

The Michigan Tech volleyball team celebrates a point during a match against the University of Mary on Sept. 6, 2019, in Houghton, Mich.. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — With just one victory in 2021, Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball coach Matt Jennings will tie Krista Mikesch for the second-most victories in school history.

Jennings has racked up an impressive 135-108 record in his eight season at the helm for the Huskies, an impressive feat considering that the team went 2-25 the year before his arrival, but for Jennings, the journey has been more about the incredible athletes he has had the chance to coach, rather than the achievements.

However, that is not to say he would not love to see the 2020-21 Huskies live up to the promise the rest of the GLIAC sees in his squad.

The Huskies, who were picked to win the GLIAC North Division this season, will play 14 matches this season starting Saturday and Sunday with a pair of home matches against Lake Superior State. They will also host Purdue Northwest and Ferris State in March before a home-and-home series with Northern Michigan to close out the regular season.

The Huskies have four seniors on roster, all of whom rank among the best to ever play at the school. Laura De Marchi, Olivia Ghormley, Anna Jonynas and Megan Utlak have won a total of 67 matches over their first three years at Michigan Tech, and all four have been instrumental from the time they arrived on campus.

“I felt for that group,” Jennings said. “I felt for the team, but I really felt for that group in the fact that their senior seasons were disrupted.

“With everything that they bring to the table for this spring season is just as important.”

De Marchi has been the best setter in the GLIAC from the time she arrived on campus. She has won the GLIAC Setter of the Year all three years she has played, and she has just gotten better as she has learned how to lead the team on the court. She is third in school history in assists with 3,588, and was named team Most Valuable Player last season.

“Laura is just simply one of the best setters in Division II volleyball, and is as good of a court leader as you’re ever, ever going to find,” said Jennings. “She just keeps us marching.

Ghormley racked up 451 kills last season. She moved into fifth in school history with 1,266. For her hard work, she was named GLIAC Attacker of the Year for the second straight season.

What sets the Oneida, Wisconsin, native apart is that she has worked hard to be the best teammate she can be on and off the court, which is all Jennings can ask of her.

“Olivia has just blossomed into this very dynamic person and leader,” Jennings said “Her offense can be just dominant. The way she has developed as a team person, she’s the most approachable of all of our, our leaders. The girls know that they can go to her for that kind of stuff. Liv has developed into showing us how to play and have fun at the same time.”

As a junior, Jonynas proved that she was more than a defensive threat. She was second on the team in digs (390), third on the team in kills (239), had 28 blocks, and led the GLIAC for the second year in a row in service aces (46).

Jonynas is what Jennings refers to as a true “six-rotation” player, as she has proven to be effective in all facets of the game.

“Anna, arguably is our most all around volleyball player, maybe one of the most all around I’ve ever coached,” Jennings said. “There isn’t a part of the game that she doesn’t impact in a good way. Her offense right now is as good as it’s ever been. She just is taking great shots.

“She’s pound for pound, one of our best passers, maybe in the league. (She’s) our top server. She just does so much so well. (She) leads by example.”

Utlak led the GLIAC in digs (543), which was second-highest in school history. She averaged 4.85 digs per set, which was second in the GLIAC and fourth-highest average in school history.

A vocal leader on the court, Utlak has apprenticed at the side of former Huskies’ Halie Hart and Elle Heinonen while also soaking up knowledge from former Huskies star defender Jacqueline Aird, and that experience has led her to be the dominant defender she is today.

“Meg has just been tough as nails out there for us defensively,” said Jennings. “I think with our blocking really having some holes in it these last few seasons, what she’s done in the backcourt terms of defending behind that block has just been pretty awesome.”

Juniors Grace Novotny and Janie Grindland are both expected to step into bigger roles this season. Novotny has appeared in every set the Huskies have played over the past two seasons, but she is an upperclassman now, so she will be expected to continue her strong play. Grindland steps into a starting role at the blocker position, and Jennings feels she is ready for the challenge.

“Janie … has been in the waiting upon arrival,” Jennings said. “When she got here, she brought a lot with her. She was competitive as a starter, early on. She has really developed … how she works within our system.”

Joining Grindland in the middle is sophomore Morgan Radtke. At 6-foot-2, Radtke presents a different challenge for attackers than Grindland, who stands 6-foot, does. Where Radtke really shines is in her reach. Her long arms allow her to get to balls that other blockers might not.

“Morgan got some time last year as a freshman,” said Jennings. “Here’s a kid who’s just a next-level athlete, easily the most physical player and on our team. She does things at the net that not many team players can do in our conference.”

While there is a lot of experience in the Huskies’ top seven, there are also a number of freshmen who could make an impact as the season goes along. Jennings likes what he has seen in practice from middle blockers Kaycee Meiners and Lauren Richards. He also likes defensive specialists Leiya Rybicki and Kate Walch.

The two who could crack the lineup quickest, though, are outside hitters Sarah Knoll and Lindy Oujiri. Both stand 6-foot-1 and can play on the right side as necessary.

“I think both of our pins give us an immediate impact on the court,” said Jennings. “I suspect that you’ll see both Lindy and Sarah getting a lot of time this year right away at the pin and I think they can play either left or right pin, left side or right side.”

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