GV tops AU in thriller to win GLIAC tourney

GVL / Robert Mathews
Kaitlyn Wolters (7) sets up a shot.

GVL / Robert Mathews Kaitlyn Wolters (7) sets up a shot.

Jay Bushen

The Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team proved it not only had the best player and coach in the GLIAC this season, but also the best team.

GVSU claimed its first GLIAC Tournament Championship since 2008 by edging Ashland University at home over the weekend in a five-set thriller that pushed the team’s winning streak to 19 games.

“They just keep finding a way to win,” head coach Deanne Scanlon. “They just go with the flow.”

Scanlon was named the 2013 GLIAC Coach of the Year.

GVSU took the league by storm this season after being tabbed as the North Division’s third-best team in the GLIAC Volleyball Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

A lot has changed since last season.

Junior outside hitter Abby Aiken went from being an All-GLIAC Second Team player to being voted the best in the conference, Scanlon recruited NJCAA All-American junior setter Kaitlyn Wolters and a close-knit team found a way to turn its off-court chemistry into on-court success.

“We are very capable of making it to nationals,” Wolters said. “I believe this team can make it all the way.”

She and Aiken were both named to the All-GLIAC First Team and the All-Tournament Team. Sophomore outside hitter Betsy Ronda was also named to the All-Tournament squad.

The Lakers came into the tournament knowing they had a big-time target on their backs after posting a 17-1 record in conference play.

That was certainly the case in the semifinals against the 2012 regular season and tournament champions of Northwood University and the reigning Player of the Year, senior outside hitter Juliia Pakhomenko.

Pakhomenko led the TImberwolves to a victory in the opening frame and was giving GVSU all it could handle until Aiken started to do what she has done all season—come up with big swings at key moments.

She led the charge with 17 kills and 17 digs as GVSU rallied to win in four sets (22-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-21) to advance to the GLIAC Championship.

“Obviously it was a team effort,” she said. “They only had one person and we have six. That’s all that matters.”

Pakhomenko finished with 27 kills on 75 attempts for a hitting-percentage mark of .240 while Aiken connected on 17 of 52 for a .250 clip.

Aiken was named the 2013 GLIAC Athlete of the Year after the match.

“I’m on cloud nine,” she said. “The coaches really believed in me and my teammates believed in me. They kept telling me positive things even when I didn’t want to hear it.”

GVSU was in for another battle on Sunday in the title match against second-seeded Ashland.

The Lakers took the first set, but the Eagles looked like the better team for the next two. The Eagles seemed to have all of the momentum and held a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth frame.

GVSU quickly got things going back in its direction behind the defensive efforts of Wolters and sophomore middle blocker Kaleigh Lound, who combined for seven blocks in the set.

“It’s awesome to have Kaleigh by me—she can jump,” Wolters said. “It definitely motivates the whole team when we get a good block. It fires everybody up.”

Wolters finished the match with 46 assists, 22 digs and eight blocks while Lound posted a team-high 16 kills to go with 10 blocks.

The final stanza was a back-and-forth battle between the league’s top teams, but ultimately it was the Tournament MVP who recorded the game-winning point.

Aiken fittingly capped off the thrilling five-set victory (25-22, 19-25, 23-25, 25-18, 19-17) with a kill.

The milestones continued to pile up for the Onsted, Mich. native, as she also tallied her 1,000th career dig at the start of the final frame.

GVSU will host the NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament which is scheduled to begin on Dec. 5.

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