Full speed ahead

GVL / Hannah Mico. Junior Abby Aiken spikes the ball down on Ashlands team during the Lakers second match on Sunday.

GVL / Hannah Mico. Junior Abby Aiken spikes the ball down on Ashland’s team during the Lakers’ second match on Sunday.

Jay Bushen

The Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team certainly appears to have all the characteristics of a group primed for a deep playoff push.

Top-seeded GVSU will begin its Midwest Region Tournament quest tonight with a match against Truman State University at the Fieldhouse Arena with hopes of extending the fourth-longest active win streak in all of the NCAA Division II.

“We don’t talk about it,” junior outside hitter Abby Aiken said. “We just know we haven’t lost very often this year.”

Aiken has been the top offensive weapon for a Laker squad that has won 27 of its last 28 games. She was tabbed as the 2013 Daktronics Inc. Midwest Region Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Aiken said she and her teammates are ready to prove they are the best in the Midwest.

“It’s all coming together,” she said. “We’ve got a swagger now. We’re a good group on and off the court, and we trust each other on the court. When we run into problems, we are able to talk them out. That’s really special.”

It has definitely been a special run so far.

The Lakers know they will be playing with a target on their backs after winning the GLIAC regular season and tournament championships. They upset the No. 6 team in the country on two separate occasions, boast a 5-1 record against ranked opponents, and own a 29-3 record overall.

Teams will be chomping at the bit for a chance to end the streak but will have to pick their poison against the multifaceted Laker offense.

“It would be foolish not to key in on Aiken,” head coach Deanne Scanlon said. “She can score from the back row just as good as she can in the front row. She’s been giving us that double threat all year long. If that’s their focal point, I feel confident in the great number of other options we have.”

It would also be foolish to ignore sophomore outside hitter Betsy Ronda and senior right-side hitter Megan Schroeder. The trio of hitters has combined to form a devastating attack this season as they averaged 8.38 kills per set.

It all starts with junior setter Kaitlyn Wolters, though, who mesmerizes teams with her ability to spread the ball around. Just when it looks like she’s trying to force it to Aiken, she sneaks in her signature move: a crafty no-look attack that seems to drop to the hardwood more times than not.

“We want Kait to attack, as well, and we’re at our best when our middles are involved,” Aiken said.

Sophomore middle blocker Kaleigh Lound and junior middle blocker Ally Simmons have come up big this season as both finished with a top-six hitting percentage in the GLIAC. The duo also led the way for a team that led the conference in total blocks.

Lound’s 1.17 blocks per set rank as the second most in the league. She usually answers the call when the team needs a stop, and it showed in the GLIAC Tournament.

“I am thrilled that we have this opportunity,” Lound said. “I want to forget about exam week and just go play volleyball. We all want it, and we’re all in it together. We’re ready.”

No player embodies the team defense better than junior libero Christina Canepa, who joined Aiken on the Daktronics All-Region First Team.

Canepa’s 1,118 career digs rank as the eighth-most in GVSU history. She is a respected team leader who brings fundamentally sound defense on a consistent basis. She and Scanlon, the 2013 GLIAC Coach of the Year, seem to have a way of keeping the team calm in tight matches.

The most impressive part of the Lakers’ run so far, though, has been their demeanor when things aren’t going their way. Their smiles on the court tell the story.

“The main thing is the team aspect,” Lound said. “We have such good chemistry together. We like to be goofy. It gives us a break from the seriousness. If we lose, there’s no point in being mad about it. That’s one of our strengths—we just try to be our goofy selves.”

The goofy group of starters is complemented by a deep bench that seems to bring a collectively positive attitude to each match. Scanlon doesn’t hesitate to roll out a wide variety of players in certain scenarios, and some of these situational players have found a way to prove themselves with their opportunities in limited action.

Is GVSU the best in the region? Time will tell, but win or lose, the band of fun-loving Lakers are an entertaining bunch to watch.

The match against Truman State is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The tournament will continue on Friday and Saturday at times to be determined.

[email protected]