Middle blockers feed off each other for GVSU volleyball

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Kaleigh Lound (15) tips the ball high over the net. Grand Valley sweeps Tiffin Oct. 3 after three sets inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Kaleigh Lound (15) tips the ball high over the net. Grand Valley sweeps Tiffin Oct. 3 after three sets inside the Fieldhouse Arena in Allendale.

Alex Eisen

In 2008, a pair of middle blockers led the Grand Valley State volleyball team in kills per set and blocks per set as the Lakers marched all the way to the Final Four.

Seven years later, senior Kaleigh Lound and freshman Staci Brower are trying to repeat history.

The similarities between Lound and Brower to the 2008 duo of Danielle Alexander and Rebeccah Rapin are not only statistically significant, but also illustrate the importance of having physical players who can dominate the middle of the court.

“(Lound and Brower) are just imposing,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “Both of them having over one block per set and to have those numbers get better as the season went on, it’s huge.”

Defensively, Brower ranks second in the conference in blocks per set (1.11), while Lound ranks seventh (1.03). Combine, their 2.14 blocks per set tops the 1.97 mark that Alexander (1.12) and Rapin (0.85) were able to achieve in 2008.

The upfront presence of Lound and Brower can shift momentum in a hurry.

“Every team loves to be offensively on a roll,” Scanlon said. “But, when teams have to grind it out through your block and (they) know there is always going to be hands in front of their face, and they aren’t used to that, it can take them out of their game.”

Offensively, the advantage belongs to Alexander and Rapin, as they averaged a combined 5.57 kills per set. Brower (2.73) and Lound (2.34) come in half a kill short at 5.07 kills per set.

The behind-the-numbers similarity, however, is the mentorship dynamic between the pairs.

In 2008, Alexander was a senior as Rapin was a sophomore. Now, Lound is the senior entrusted to watch over freshman Brower.

But, according to Lound, it’s not that simple. It’s a two-way street.

“(Brower) and I connect well in practice and we can kind of both learn from each other, like she has a lot of aspects of her game that I can learn from her even as a senior,” she said. “Then, with my experience of being here, she can also learn from me.

“Every day in practice, from drill-to-drill, we just feed off each other.”

Brower echoed the same mutual respect for her teammate.

“I look up to (Lound) a lot with her being a senior and I try to encourage her and I know she encourages me,” Brower said. “We have a pretty good relationship between the balance of pushing each other, but also wanting what’s best for each other.”

It’s a relationship that wasn’t exactly built on the court, but off it.

“Kaleigh was a lot like Staci her freshman year,” Scanlon said. “A great athlete, but hadn’t played at a high-level. They have a really good relationship (and connected) that way, even though they are not on the court at the same time.”

With only one middle blocker occupying the net at a given time, Lound and Brower spend a majority of their time during a match watching each other from the sidelines.

Regardless of who is on the court, the blocks have continued to pile up, and the GVSU offense knows exactly where to set the ball when it needs an uplifting kill.

“We both kind of demand the ball a lot,” Brower said. “We feel like we have the confidence to do what we have to do so we demand it.”

Brower’s aggressiveness has been hard to stop this season, as she was named GLIAC Freshman of the Year and earned All-GLIAC First Team honors.

But, as good as Brower has been, she has realized by watching Lound how far she has yet to go.

“I’ve learned that there’s a lot of room for improvement because I’m seeing how well she does.” Brower said. “She has also taught me how to try and stay more positive because I typically get down on myself pretty quickly. She went through that as a freshman, so I’ve learned to keep my energy up and positivity up.”

Yet, Lound would be the first to admit that she isn’t much of a vocal leader and sees herself more as a lead by example type of personality.

“I’m not one to necessarily speak up in all moments, I’ll speak up sometimes when something needs to be said,” Lound said. “I believe that if you are humble and work hard that everybody else will follow suit.”

Lound’s leadership style has certainly rubbed off on Brower.

Lound, Brower and the rest of the Lakers begin their quest to reach consecutive Final Fours for the first time in program history as they travel to Ferris State to take on Lewis on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. for the first round of NCAA tournament regionals.