GVSU volleyball celebrates as GLIAC champs

Archive / Hannah Mico

Archive / Hannah Mico

Jay Bushen

Champions don’t cower in the face of adversity. They dance.

The No. 15 Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team celebrated its first outright GLIAC regular season championship since 2008 over the weekend by furthering its dominance of GLIAC competition with a pair of four-set road victories at Northwood University and Hillsdale College.

“I’ve had a feeling about this team since last spring,” head coach Deanne Scanlon said. “I constantly told them that they have a lot of similarities with the 2005 team that won a national championship. It’s a little surprising because our conference is so tough, but on the other hand, I knew we had the talent.”

GVSU (26-3, 17-1 GLIAC) has appeared to be unshakable, unflappable and unstoppable since a 2-2 debut in the Riverfront Hotel Grand Rapids Classic in early September. It has won 24 of 25 matches since.

The young Lakers have seemingly forgotten how to lose.

The team needed a victory to secure the outright GLIAC crown when the weekend began, but it came out flat in the first set at Northwood on Friday night.

The reigning GLIAC Player of the Year Juliia Pakhomenko and the Timberwolves came out swinging and scored the first eight points of the match to eventually take the set 25-9.

One might assume an inexperienced group would panic, but fittingly, the Lakers did the exact opposite.

Scanlon said she wasn’t surprised to see that her players had started dancing to the music on the court despite the initial shellacking.

“They’re goofy and silly off the court, but they have that ability to flip the switch and turn on the competitiveness and play relaxed,” she said. “They’ve worked hard at it; our captains have done a great job cultivating this great family environment within our team. They just don’t give up.”

GVSU responded by racking off three straight victories to wrap up the match in four sets (9-25, 25-15, 25-22, 31-29) on its way to clinching the conference title.

Junior outside hitter Abby Aiken led the way with 12 kills to go with a pair of service aces to power the Laker offense, while sophomore middle blocker Kaleigh Lound set the tone defensively with a career-high nine blocks to go with eight kills and a .471 hitting-percentage clip.

“We got killed, but there was nothing we could do about it,” Lound said of the first set. “We just stayed positive. We always have those goofy moments as a team.”

The fun-loving group celebrated on the bus with a post-game dance party, and the title seemed even sweeter when Scanlon awarded the players with championship bling in the form of Ring Pops.

She said her team quickly regained focus for an important matchup with Hillsdale on Saturday because she wanted to ensure the team would garner a No. 1 seed in the regional rankings.

Sophomore outside hitter Betsy Ronda was lights-out from behind the service line against the Chargers, tallying a trio of consecutive aces in the third set before finishing the game with six. She also supplied five kills and nine digs in the victory (23-25, 25-16, 25-18, 25-19).

Junior libero Christina Canepa led the way with a match-high 25 digs—enough to put her in eighth place all time in the GVSU record books.

Aiken posted a match-high 12 kills to go with a pair of aces, while senior right-side hitter Megan Schroeder tallied 11 kills and five blocks.

“I’m very thankful that my last season was such a good one,” Schroeder said. “It will be nice to look back and have all of these memories.”

It’s safe to say the upbeat Lakers have every reason to dance.

The team will begin its postseason quest at home on Wednesday in the GLIAC Tournament Quarterfinals.

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