No. 24 GVSU volleyball splits pair of conference matches

GVL/Luke Holmes
Jessica Majerle (no.3) gets ready to spike the ball.

GVL/Luke Holmes Jessica Majerle (no.3) gets ready to spike the ball.

Alex Eisen

While acknowledging and honoring tradition by welcoming back alumnae over the weekend, the No. 24 Grand Valley State volleyball team took a stride toward adding its own chapter of success to the program’s illustrious archives.

But the success was short lived. The lack of a killer instinct doomed the Lakers yet again.

GVSU (14-8, 8-3 GLIAC) swept Hillsdale on Friday (25-17, 25-17, 25-14), in front of the Lakers’ largest crowd of the season, but suffered a five-set defeat against Findlay (16-6, 9-2 GLIAC) Saturday afternoon on Alumni Day by scores of 25-23, 23-25, 28-26, 17-25, 15-12.

The Findlay defeat snapped GVSU’s home winning streak at eight games. The loss was a difficult one to categorize as the Lakers had nearly every statistical advantage and were coming off a dominating performance the night before.

“If you looked at the stats sheet then you would think we blew them away,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “When you lose a match like that it comes down to an x-factor.”

The loss was a demoralizing way to end what started as a promising weekend.

Entering the contest Friday, GVSU and Hillsdale were tied in the GLIAC standings at 7-2. Once the two groups stepped out onto the court, however, the Lakers proved to be the superior team.

Offensively, GVSU had a .300 hitting percentage in all three sets.

Outside hitter Jessica Majerle was the only Laker to reach double-digit kills (11), but senior teammates Kaleigh Lound (8) and Betsy Ronda (9) were effective as well, connecting on their swings with hitting percentages of .471 and .421, respectively.

Freshman Staci Brower also put down kills on her first six attack attempts and added three more throughout the match to finish with nine total.

Defensively, GVSU held Hillsdale’s attack to a season-low .077 hitting percentage. The Lakers put up eight blocks to the Chargers’ four and held the edge in digs (65-56) as well.

Ronda, who had a team-high 23 digs, climbed two places on Friday to fifth all-time on GVSU’s career digs list, surpassing Megan Helsen (2003-06, 1,297) and Jodi Sprick (1992-94, 1,303).

Arguably GVSU’s only true moment of concern came in the second set, leading 4-1, when sophomore setter Katie Olson recorded one of the more memorable digs of the season after taking a Hillsdale kill attempt square to the face.

“I have honestly never been hit in the head this many times before. This time I don’t have a concussion, so we are good,” Olson said while trying to contain her laughter. “You get hit in the face and it’s funny anyway, and the fact the (ball) went over (the net) was even better, and we got a point. So, I mean, you got to joke with it and not get too mad about it.”

Olson sat out against Lake Erie and Ashland two weeks ago with a concussion, but she laughed off the Hillsdale incident and stayed on the court after being checked out, finishing the match with a team-high 24 assists.

In the five-set marathon match against Findlay, Olson nearly doubled her assist output with a career-high 43. Combined with freshman Taylor Stewart, the rotating setter duo anchored a Laker attack that sported a .304 hitting percentage in the loss.

Findlay’s .215 hitting percentage was almost 100 points worse than GVSU, but the Oilers executed late in sets to put a damper on the Alumni Day festivities.

Ronda led GVSU in kills (21) and hitting percentage (.362), while adding 18 digs, one solo block and one ace.

“We are doing a lot of great things,” Ronda said. “If you look at our hitting percentage, our blocking, we are right there – just not making those key plays at the time we need to and changing the momentum in game. We need to find a way to close it out and find that energy.

“Obviously, it’s good to be the go-to person that situation trying to pick-up the team and fire them up a little.”

GVSU’s outside hitters got the majority of the swings as Findlay concentrated its blocking efforts to the middle of floor. Majerle knocked down 16 kills and Wolters had 15 kills. Middle blockers Lound and Brower were held to seven kills each.

While working around Findlay’s blocks, GVSU’s net-front presence induced a season-high 16 team blocks. Brower contributed a team-high two solo rejections and seven assisted blocks.

The Oilers had upper hand on serves with six aces, and got some help from the Lakers, who had eight serving errors. The miscues hurt GVSU, but again, no one was able to make a key play in crunch time.

“I’m a little tired of banging my head against a wall preaching the same message,” Scanlon said. “So, I would really like to see them take some ownership. I thought we took a huge step forward (Friday) with that win over Hillsdale. But, obviously, we aren’t consistent enough with that attitude, with that mentality.”

The Lakers will have a week to regroup before traveling to the Upper Peninsula to face conference opponents Northern Michigan (16-7, 5-6 GLIAC) on Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. and Michigan Tech (17-6, 8-3 GLIAC) on Oct. 31 at 4 p.m.