No. 21 GVSU gets pair of GLIAC road wins

GVL / Kevin Sielaff     Betsy Rhonda (6) jumps up for a spike. The Laker Vollyeball team squares off against SVSU Sept. 19 inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale. The Lakers defeated SVSU by a margin of 3-1.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff Betsy Rhonda (6) jumps up for a spike. The Laker Vollyeball team squares off against SVSU Sept. 19 inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale. The Lakers defeated SVSU by a margin of 3-1.

Alex Eisen

Grand Valley State libero Taylor Shomin dived forward in desperation to keep the opening set alive against Malone. As Shomin landed facedown, the ball sprung off her fully extended arms and floated across the net. The Malone front blocker watched helplessly as the ball drifted over her head and landed inches inside the line.

Another error-filled first set ended with a remarkable rally, and the No. 21 GVSU volleyball team prevailed on the road to stay perfect in conference play by sweeping Malone (28-26, 25-14, 25-22) and Walsh (25-15, 25-17, 25-21) over the weekend.

“We need to have the mentality to be able to dictate the pace a little bit better and take charge from the start,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “It’s a strength to have that skill to battle back, but it’s not a good way to consistently play.”

The Lakers (8-4, 4-0 GLIAC) struggled to get its offense going Friday night against Malone (4-10, 0-4 GLIAC). A season-worst 11 errors in the first set forced GVSU into an early 12-3 deficit to overcome.

Freshman Staci Brower, third-best in the GLIAC in kills per set (3.54), helped GVSU claw back into the first frame with an array of dominant swings coming from middle of the court.

Following Shomin’s heroics on set point, Brower factored into the next two set-winning points by getting a solo block and an assisted rejection with senior Jessica Majerle.

Brower singlehandedly stabilized the Lakers’ attack for the rest of the match, tying a career-high with 18 kills. She racked up those 18 kills in just three sets, as opposed to the five sets she needed earlier in the season against Minnesota State Moorhead.

“Even though it’s so early on, I’ve already built really strong relationship with the girls,” Brower said. “Them giving me that position (of go-to player) I know that they trust in me, so by them trusting in me it gives me the confidence to step up to the challenge.”

GVSU seized control after taking the first set by the minimum two points for the third consecutive match. The Lakers had a more polished attack, with just 11 errors in the final two sets and a stout defense to carry them to the sweep.

Senior Kaleigh Lound picked up seven kills in 13 attempts (.462 hitting percentage), while sophomore setter Katie Olson came a dig short of a double-double (27 assists and 9 digs).

Offensively, senior Betsy Ronda had one of the worst games of her collegiate career with a -.429 hitting percentage (one kill, seven errors in 14 attempts), but achieved a milestone by passing Jamie Ashmore (2005-08) to move into eighth place all-time in program history with 1,168 career digs.

“It was frustrating at times,” Ronda said. “But at that point I just wanted to focus on my team and how I could help them. (The milestone) is exciting for sure, it’s a good sideline goal to hopefully keep moving up higher in that rank.”

A 10-minute drive down the road on Saturday afternoon to Walsh (4-8, 0-4 GLIAC) found GVSU tied with the Cavaliers at eight points apiece in the first set before the Lakers went off on a 17 to 7 run to take over the match.

Brower and Majerle led the way with 10 kills each. Lound proved to be efficient once more, bagging six kills in 11 swings for a game-high .545 hitting percentage, while Olson managed to get her double-double this time, recording 16 assists and 12 digs.

As GVSU continued to rotate setters, freshman Taylor Stewart notched a team-high 19 assists.

Scanlon turned to her bench often after GVSU jumped out to a 15-6 lead in the second set. 15 of GVSU’s 19 players saw playing time, but the starters lingered in and out of the rotation throughout the match.

“We keep a close count of how fast we are rotating through and how many points we are scoring, so we know if we have the freedom to make some other subs,” Scanlon said. “But, I also thought it was kind of important to get in a groove having to play Ferris on Tuesday.”

GVSU can’t afford another slow start at No. 2 Ferris State (12-1) Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. The last two meetings at FSU have been five-set marathon losses for the Lakers.

The Bulldogs, who lost just one starter from a season ago, are rightfully the favorites for Tuesday. GVSU is younger and less experienced after losing four key contributors from the 2014 Final Four team.

So, what’s it going to take to pull the upset? Not getting caught up in rivalry, Ronda said.

“Ferris has a pretty small gym, so it’s high energy. So, being able to stay calm and play our own game and not worry so much about what they are doing, but what we can control.”