GVSU braces for Elite Eight tilt with Wingate

GVL / Emily Frye
(#15) Kaleigh Lound

GVL / Emily Frye (#15) Kaleigh Lound

Jay Bushen

After coaching the Grand Valley State volleyball team in eight Elite Eight matches since 2000, Deanne Scanlon knows tournament wins aren’t always pretty.

“Every team down here has the ability, the physical talent to win a national championship,” Scanlon said. “It’s about just being able to put three solid days together, getting through that first-round matchup and playing an ugly type of match to move on.”

Adjusting on the fly in those types of matches could be key for No. 18 GVSU (26-5) this weekend in Louisville, Ky.

More than 80 percent of the team’s victories have come by way of sweep this season, including all three of its wins during the Midwest Region Tournament, but it might not be as easy in the Division II quarterfinals.

No. 12 Wingate (34-2) enters the matchup with plenty of momentum. The Bulldogs are riding a nine-game win streak after their Southeast Regional championship win over No. 21 Armstrong State.

For Scanlon’s Lakers, the focus isn’t so much on the opponent, but on their own side of the court.

“It’s just trust,” Scanlon said. “When you build relationships with players and you see them really take to heart about buying into your system and the way they work with each other, I think trust is the key thing. 

“When you have that common enjoyment, when you really truly enjoy being around each other and you’re happy for the success of your teammates it’s just a fun environment to be around. That can take the focus off the win/loss pressure thing when you really just enjoy the moment.”

Senior middle blocker Ally Simmons said that’s what she’s looking forward to most about the Division II Fall Festival — relishing one last weekend with her teammates.

“It’s just the icing on the cake,” said Simmons, who is hitting .297 this season. “These last four years have definitely had their ups and downs, and to finish it like this is phenomenal. With three other teams there, it’s going to be an awesome six days with my best friends.”

The only ranked opponent GVSU could play in the national championship match is No. 4 Southwest Minnesota State (24-9). SMSU knocked off seven-time defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul in the second round.

GVSU upset SMSU when the teams last met in 2013.

The other three teams in the bottom portion of the bracket are unranked: New Haven (24-8) and a pair of seventh-seeded Cinderellas, Sonoma State (23-6) and Arkansas-Fort Smith (28-4).

Should the Lakers advance to the Division II semifinals, they will play on Friday at 3 p.m. The championship match is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m.

“We don’t have anything to lose going down here,” said junior outside hitter Betsy Ronda. “Coming off regionals and how we played — we’re ready to play whoever’s across from us.”

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