GVSU volleyball splits two road matches

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Shannon Winicki (18) tips the ball over the net. Grand Valley sweeps Tiffin Oct. 3 after three sets inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Shannon Winicki (18) tips the ball over the net. Grand Valley sweeps Tiffin Oct. 3 after three sets inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale.

Alex Eisen

Unable to knock off top-level competition all season long, the Grand Valley State volleyball team closed out the regular season with a chance to grab a quality road victory against Saginaw Valley State.

GVSU (19-10, 13-5 GLIAC) failed to rise to the occasion once again, and fell in four sets to SVSU (22-7, 12-6 GLIAC) on Friday night by scores of 25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 25-19.

The Lakers regrouped Saturday afternoon to win their final regular season game against Wayne State (12-18, 7-11 GLIAC) in four sets (25-23, 25-20, 21-25, 25-18).

By splitting the two matches and getting some help from a couple other teams, GVSU claimed the No. 4 seed in the GLIAC tournament, meaning the Lakers will host a first-round playoff match inside the friendly confines of Fieldhouse Arena, where they are 10-3 this season.

“We are sitting on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “Dropping that loss to Saginaw hurt terribly. We win that match, and we’re probably off to regionals.”

Earlier in the season on Sept. 19, GVSU defeated SVSU in four sets at home. The Cardinals flipped the script on Friday by stifling the Lakers’ attack.

GVSU’s normally potent offensive weapons were shut down. Senior Betsy Ronda and freshman Staci Brower both collected eight kills, but they also had eight attacking errors each, while senior Kaleigh Lound was held to seven kills and a .161 hitting percentage.

Seniors Jessica Majerle and Kourtney Wolters led the Lakers with 10 kills each.

After dropping the opening two sets, GVSU clawed back into the match by hitting a match-high .289 to take set three.

With GVSU leading 16-11 in the fourth set, SVSU stormed back with a 10-0 run to end any hopes the Lakers had of making a two-set comeback.

“I had to use both of my timeouts, made subs and, again, nobody would step up,” Scanlon said. “Attack error after attack error, there just wasn’t anybody that would take a swing and put the ball away.”

The loss dropped GVSU into a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference standings with Ashland and SVSU.

Needing a victory against Wayne State to have any shot at a home conference playoff game, the Lakers and Scanlon found a trio of consistent hitters in Majerle, Lound and redshirt freshman Shannon Winicki.

Winicki knocked down a career-high 14 kills with a .345 hitting percentage.

“I felt like I could go up and make a big swing, knowing that I had my teammates behind me covering me,” Winicki said. “It definitely felt good to have a game like that because we kind of got ourselves into a little slump yesterday.”

Majerle and Lound both added 13 kills. Sophomore setter Katie Olson was in the middle of the action, setting up the offense with a career-high 49 assists. Olson was the primary setter for the second consecutive week instead of rotating with freshman Taylor Stewart.

The defense relied heavily on blocks. Lound and Brower were tough to get past at the net, putting up six total blocks each. The Lakers, as a collective unit, tied a season-high with seven solo blocks (14 total blocks).

Calm and collected, GVSU continuously battled from behind in sets to secure the victory.

“The pressure kind of got to us yesterday, whereas today it felt like if we got in a hole we were able to work our way out,” Majerle said. “We have had multiple talks about how to push through those tough sets. I think the win today really helped us out and got us ready for this upcoming Wednesday.”

After a pair of five-set losses by SVSU against No. 4 Ferris State and Ashland against Findlay on Saturday, the Lakers stood alone in fourth place in the conference.

“Those losses are certainly things that helped us out, but we (have) to start helping ourselves out,” Scanlon said. “These are matches we need to win. That’s the part of the season that we are at.”

GVSU will host Ashland on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the first round of the conference tournament. This will likely be the Lakers’ last home match of the season, and a loss could spell the end of their season.

The Eagles beat GVSU in four sets in Ashland, Ohio on Oct. 10.

A victory would not only boost GVSU’s NCAA tournament chances drastically, but Scanlon would surpass former head coach Joan Boand for most wins in program history.