GVSU volleyball quickly putting last year in rear-view

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Betsy Ronda sets up for the block earlier this season.

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GVL / Archive Betsy Ronda sets up for the block earlier this season.

Zach Sepanik

The Grand Valley State University volleyball team is different.

Head coach Deanne Scanlon and the entirety of the program has witnessed quite the transformation in personnel and has seen dramatic changes, all beginning at the end of last year.

“The first thing I did as a coach at the end of the season is a really close evaluation of every little bit of our program,” Scanlon said. “I also thought back through the years of those successful teams and what went into that. I think we got away from really developing some of the leaders in our program.”

Currently tied for fourth in the GLIAC with an overall record of 19-5, and a 9-4 mark in the conference, one would be hard-pressed to see any resemblance to last season’s squad. That team began the season ranked No. 8 in the country and finished 14-13.

“It’s so exciting,” said junior middle blocker Abby Ebels. “It’s my fourth season and it’s probably my most favorite so far just because of mainly the girls on the team, their personalities and how well we get along. Winning a national championship is always the goal and in my mind, we have the ability to do that this year.”

The roster, consisting of 19 student-athletes, is comprised of seven true freshmen, 12 underclassmen, and only one senior—Eno Umoh. As captains, Umoh, Ebels and junior libero Sacha Gill, offer the team leadership and experience, qualities that have been a recipe for their team’s success this season.

“I’ve talked to everyone and become friends with the freshmen also,” Umoh said. “Talking to them and helping them out a lot, just to make sure they know what to do, it helps them respect me more, being more involved with underclassmen.”

The freshmen class features a lot of young talent for the future and for right now. From the first preseason practice to Saturday’s match against Michigan Technological University, Scanlon has been in awe of what this group brings to the table.

“Early on in the preseason, putting execution aside and where we were at, I got a sense of the energy of this group,” Scanlon said.
“You can actually feel it when you walk into the gym. I don’t know if uplifted is the right word, but you just feel like there is something special.”

For those who were a part of last season’s team, that energy has produced a renewed winning culture.

“To have them coming in and bringing that dynamic is great,” Ebels said. “It’s not like we don’t have that and the passion to win as upperclassmen. I think there’s a difference between a senior and a freshman, and the craziness that a freshman brings is great. It lightens up the whole mood at practice.”

After the struggles the Lakers faced in 2011, from then to now, one of the biggest contributing factors to the turnaround has to be the camaraderie that connects each individual.

“We didn’t really have a very close-knit team last year,” Ebels said. “We didn’t have a lot of those close relationships that carry over onto the court. The closeness of this group and how well we mesh together is definitely a benefit.”

For the 2012 version of Laker volleyball, the sky is the limit, as they have come to realize. Also, continuing to win presents a challenge in itself, maybe the biggest piece of the puzzle GVSU will need to learn how to deal with as the GLIAC and NCAA Tournaments approach.

“I feel like we have the target on our backs,” Scanlon said. “People mark with a big red ‘X’ on their calendar when they are playing Grand Valley. We weren’t there last year and are trying to build and get back to that. I think that is where we are at right now.”

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