Huskies volleyball looking to build off strong weekend
SAULT STE. MARIE — Coming off wins against Purdue Northwest and Wisconsin-Parkside last weekend, the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team is looking to string some more wins together this weekend as they return to the road to face Lake Superior State and Ferris State on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Head coach Matt Jennings was pleased with the effort he saw out of his team.
“It was a good weekend for us,” he said. “I thought we played well, well enough to win at least and showed a lot of grit in that comeback on Saturday.”
The Huskies needed a strong showing on Friday against the Pride, and they just that.
“It set the bar for the weekend,” Jennings said. “I thought we just came in and did clean up what we were looking to clean up. I think that we’re looking to get better in certain areas, and I thought we did that on Friday, for sure.”
Senior middle Morgan Radtke and junior outside hitter Lindy Oujiri both stepped up their offense on Friday, which helped set the tone for the Huskies. Both led the team with nine kills each.
Oujiri, who Jennings has been waiting to see gain some confidence, took a “step in the right direction,” according to her coach.
“She had a good weekend for her,” he said. “(She) took a lot more aggressive swings, and swings with intent. She was a big part of why, I think, we were successful over the weekend.
“It’s good to see her take that step, and I think she’ll continue to go that direction.”
Jennings wants to continue to see Oujiri play with the kind of confidence she showed over the weekend.
“I think when she takes a full approach, and is taking big swings, she’s a really hard player to stop,” he said. “I think right now, the more she just plays with that confidence, I think you’ll see more and more success coming her way. She had a good weekend, for sure.”
Saturday’s match against the Rangers was drastically different. The Huskies dropped both of the first two sets, including trailing by 10 at one point, 20-10.
Enter freshman Makena Wesol, who was seeing her first action since Sept. 16, a loss to Ferris State. She helped the Huskies storm back and cut the lead in half at 23-18, which ignited the Huskies, despite losing the set.
“I think she provided a spark for us that she carried over,” said Jennings. “Look, we’re competitive almost every day in practice, and she’s a good player. (She) shows a lot of what she did out there on Saturday in practice every day.”
Wesol blew past her previous career-high three kills, snatching up 13 before the match was over.
“When she came out there, it was all her,” Jennings said. “She just went out there and took it with a ton of energy, positive energy, competitive, urgent energy. It was successful. She was scoring.
“That’s a great feeling to have, when you’re an athlete. You want to go out there, have that kind of performance off the bench, and literally turn the game around. It was a lot of fun to see.”
Wesol is part of a freshmen group that Jennings is waiting to see take the reins. He has worked Brooke Dzwik and Meg Raabe into the lineup to varying degrees of success on the court to this point. All of the players have a great relationship off the court, but he wants that same level of comfort on the court.
“We’re just looking for the right combination of players,” Jennings said. “I think we have a deep roster, especially at that pin position, and will continue to. I think that for us, it’s about finding the right combination of all three.”
Another outside hitter that is growing into more of a leadership role with the Huskies is right side hitter Jillian Kuizenga. Kuizenga had a team-high 14 kills in Saturday’s win.
“Jillian is doing exactly what we’ve asked her to do,” said Jennings. “She has, I think, built on some of the successes that she’s seen in her position in years past. I think that when she is scoring offensively, and setting up a good block for us on the right side, we have a good chance. (That) will put us in a position to win more often than not.
“I think things around her need to continue to be moving in the right direction so that we can get her the ball as much as we’d like.”
Jennings likes the blocking scheme that is developing between Radtke and Kuizenga, especially as the Huskies head to Ferris State on Saturday.
“Our blocking has been, actually, a bright spot for us this year so far,” he said. “It’s certainly been an improvement, I think, on years past. I think Morgan and Jill have a lot to do with that.”
This weekend, the Huskies travel to face the Lake Superior State Lakers on Friday and the Ferris State Bulldogs on Saturday.
The Huskies downed the Lakers in straight sets on Sept. 17 for their first GLIAC win of the season thanks, in large part, to 19 kills from Kuizenga and seven from Radtke.
That success does not guarantee that Friday’s match will be the same.
“We don’t take any match for granted,” said Jennings. “We just don’t. We don’t take any match for granted. This conference this year is particularly deep, and the region is very deep. So, there is not a weekend off, no doubt. I know that seems cliche, but I feel that more than ever.”
Looming on Saturday is a rematch with the Bulldogs, whom the Huskies have tamed in recent years, only to fall 3-0 to them on Sept. 16.
Jennings is hopeful that the team can enter Saturday’s match with confidence and turn the tables on the Bulldogs.