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Huskies hoping to springboard from tourney success

Michigan Tech’s Grace Novotny (5) high-fives Laura De Marchi (11) as Anna Jonynas (6) looks on during a Sept. 3 game against Minnesota State in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — After going 1-3 at home in the Keweenaw Classic to open the season, everyone around the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team knew the goal was to bounce back during their first road trip of the season.

The Huskies did just that, going 4-0 at the Illinois-Springfield Capital Classic.

A large part of that bounce back came off the hands of fifth year outside hitter Anna Jonynas. The reigning Huskies most valuable player Jonynas racked up 52 kills, 47 digs, and four aces on the weekend as Michigan Tech defeated McKendree, No. 8 Northwest Missouri State, Lake Erie, and host Illinois-Springfield.

Head coach Matt Jennings was quick to point out that there are few players in the country that can give her team on the court what Jonynas, who was named GLIAC North Player of the Week, can set in and set out. She racked up 16 kills while hitting .250 Friday night against Northwest Missouri State before picking up 16 kills and hitting .421 with no errors in Saturday’s win over Illinois-Springfield.

“There’s just not many players that do as many good things for you as Anna does,” he said. “She (gets), in the Northwest game for example, 16 kills, hitting the mid twos, 21 digs in four sets. Then the next night goes 16 Oh, and 30-something. Hits over .400. She is great serving. She’s an all around player and she’s MVP a couple of times over for reasons.”

Jonynas and her teammates set their goals as a group just as high as Jennings and his staff did. For him, seeing his team work hard during the week and then show that effort on the court over the weekend was all he could ask.

“For momentum, for confidence, and to show that challenge we had at the beginning of the season is helping us prepare for what we’re going to play going forward,” he said. “I’ll tell you, the way we played, particularly in the Northwest Missouri State game in the UIS game, that was some really good volleyball. It was, I think, a big part in getting better from the beginning.”

Of course, winning has its own rewards.

“It always feels great to win,” Jennings said. “I feel like we went down there and did what we were hoping to do, and hoping to accomplish, not just with the winning, but with the way we played, and try and take our best step forward after a challenging start.

“So it was a good weekend. Overall, I think we’ve played some really good volleyball. We’ve learned a little bit more about ourselves. I think I saw some improvements in areas that we were looking to see improvement. It paid off, and we’re trying to get better.”

Another Huskies outside hitter who continues to make strides is sophomore Lindy Oujiri. After a strong showing in one set against then-No. 2 Concordia-St. Paul, Oujiri saw action in three matches this past weekend. She picked up four kills against McKendree, seven against Lake Erie, and a season-high 15 against Illinois-Springfield.

Jennings feels that Oujiri’s confidence makes all the difference in the way she plays.

“Lindy is is going to be as effective as her confidence is in the moment,” he said. “She’s such a hard worker, (a) very, very intelligent person and player, very good listener, very comfortable. She has some kind of skill that when she plays competently and assertively, she can be a top of the point scorer, and it’s just a matter of getting her the kind of experience, and confidence,that can really set her off. 

“I mean, when she gets going, she’s as fast in the seams. The team plays hard around her. She’s got great volleyball IQ and instinct. It’s just reminding the young player to go hard every time and to believe that she could do it every play.”

Attacking the GLIAC

After eight non-conference matches to open the season, the Huskies return home this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to open their conference schedule with the Grand Valley State Lakers, the Davenport Panthers, and the Ferris State Bulldogs. All three were picked to finish among the top three teams in the GLIAC South Division this year, with the Lakers being the top seed.

Last season, the Huskies swept the Lakers in their first meeting, only to lose in five sets the following night. The match itself was a bit uncharacteristic for the Huskies, in Jennings’ opinion, due to some antics on the court.

“Grand Valley and us last year had a really contentious battle,” he said. “We’ve been looking forward to playing each other, I think, since the minute the last time ended. We went down there and beat them in three the first night then lost in five the second. There was some chirping going on in there, and this is uncharacteristic for us.

“Look, they’re a very good team. I think understandably so, but I think, correctly, our focus right now was on Grand Valley first.”

The Huskies and the Panthers have not faced each other very much, but every match, as Jennings describes it, has been a close, hard-fought battle for every point.

That being said, Jennings and his staff have been quick to point out to the team this week that they need to do the best they can to reduce the length of the first two matches, given that the Bulldogs loom large in the third match of a three-day weekend.

Michigan Tech defeated the Bulldogs all three times the two teams met during the spring season. They are eager to go out Sunday and prove that they are ready to compete with them every time they face them.

“This will, very instantly, show where everyone’s at right away,” Jennings said. “I’m pretty excited, again very excited, to have it on our home court. I get excited anytime that we’re playing in the conference. I get excited anytime we’re playing Grand Valley, anytime we’re playing Ferris State, anytime we’re playing at home. 

“There’s a lot to be excited about, but to begin the GLIAC season with this matchup here, is a lot of fun, and a lot to look forward to, and, I can speak for the team in this regard for sure, they’re excited about it, which is the most important part.”

The Huskies will host Grand Valley at 5 p.m. Friday. They will face Davenport at 2 p.m. Saturday before finishing the weekend against Ferris State at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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