GVSU volleyball overcomes deficit to defeat Michigan Tech 3-2

GVL / Dylan McIntyre. Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. GVSU getting ready for set five.

GVL / Dylan McIntyre. Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. GVSU getting ready for set five.

Robbie Triano

To put it bluntly, it wasn’t looking good for the Grand Valley State women’s volleyball team.

Down two sets to one against Michigan Technological University, the Lakers entered the fourth set knowing it was either to win and force a decisive fifth set, or lose and go back home.

The Lakers (7-7, 4-2 GLIAC) rallied back to overcome the odds, winning the fourth set 25-23 and the final set 18-16 to complete the comeback and defeat the Michigan Tech Huskies (8-6, 3-3 GLIAC) 3-2 Friday, Sept. 29, at the GVSU Fieldhouse.

Despite her team’s poor play earlier in the contest, GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon was just happy they came out with the win.

“This was a roller coaster of a game,” Scanlon said. “It was definitely frustrating at (points), but games like these are the reason we love to play the game of volleyball.”

The first set proved to be a back-and-forth battle, as neither team could hold onto a lead of more than four points. Michigan Tech led the set in kills (16), digs (23) and assists (16), but GVSU’s front line of Sydney Doby and Hannah Murdock provided the Lakers with enough offense down the stretch to secure the 25-23 first-set victory. Doby finished the set with five kills, while teammate Murdock had four.

Michigan Tech got revenge in the second set, taking advantage of multiple GVSU receiving and spiking errors to grab a 25-13 second-set victory. The Lakers had difficulty finding open holes on offense against a Huskie defense that guarded their territory. Coach Scanlon could only blame her team for the poor second-set showing.

“(Michigan Tech) was able to terminate in front of the net and just hitting really smart shots,” Scanlon said. “Our blockers were late a lot because they had a lot of hitters in the air. If our blockers would’ve made some adjustments quicker, that could’ve been the one thing that turned the game on a dime.”

Set three was a much closer contest, as both teams kept within two points of each other. The Lakers once led 13-12, but GVSU still continued to have difficulty returning the ball and making successful kill attempts. The Huskies took control of the set 25-20 to take a 2-1 lead. 

Entering the decisive fourth set, the Lakers had to quickly get over their earlier mistakes in order to stay in the game. Doby knew the team had to have a “short-term memory” in order to complete the comeback.

“We were able to have a lot of mental toughness during this game,” Doby said. “We decided to play for each single point at a time. I don’t think there was one girl that was upset or down. We were just pumped up for the next point.”

The Lakers came out swinging in the fourth set, finally finding the holes in the Huskies’ defense to claim a nail-biting 25-23 set victory to force a final set. Murdock tallied six kills during the set, while Doby claimed five. Doby believed the major difference in their offensive execution was the Lakers’ back-row communication to the hitters up front.

“Every time we would go out and swing, Katie Olson and Sydney Benchley would always tell us where to hit, where to tip and how many blockers we had,” Doby said. “It’s crazy—they’re always there to set us up for success. Because of that, everybody did a good job slightly changing up their hits to take (Michigan Tech’s) defense off.”

With the game’s intensity at its highest, the fifth set was a constant back-and-forth battle to reclaim the lead. Willed by dominant offensive final-set performances by the front line of junior Shannon Winicki (four kills) and Doby (three kills), the Lakers were able to overcome their earlier mistakes and steal a 18-16 final set for the 3-2 overall victory. Winicki, who was responsible for two of the team’s final three points, believed that the final two set performances showed what the team is capable of accomplishing.

“If we keep that mentality and play how we usually play, we’ll be able to be successful,” Winicki said. “It was about having that mindset of playing each point for your teammate. You always can’t be able to get hype for every point, but having that energy for when your teammate gets that kill or dig helped translate getting that next run.”

Winicki’s final set performance reminded coach Scanlon of one of her former players and current graduate assistant. 

“We talk about a catalyst of someone that can make plays when it matters,” Scanlon said. “Our graduate assistant Abby Aiken would be terrible for four sets, but when it came to set five, she wanted the ball. Having a player like that takes the pressure off of her teammates, and Shannon really showed that tonight.” 

Doby led the game with 18 kills. Other Laker standouts were Murdock (16 kills); Olson (43 assists, 17 digs); Benchley (24 digs); and Winicki (14 kills).

The Lakers will head on the road to face GLIAC opponents Ferris State (13-2, 7-0 GLIAC) Friday, Oct. 6, and Northwood University (8-7, 2-5 GLIAC) Saturday, Oct 7.