GVSU ends season with NCAA loss to Hillsdale

GVL / Eric Coulter
Aby Aiken spikes the ball over the net

GVL / Eric Coulter Aby Aiken spikes the ball over the net

Zach Sepanik

The stakes couldn’t have been higher when the Grand Valley State University volleyball team took the court against Hillsdale College on Thursday in the NCAA tournament Midwest regional opening round.

It was the fourth meeting of the season between the two schools when they met in the Ruth Lilly Center at the University of Indianapolis. This time around, the sixth-seeded Chargers got the best of No. 3 GVSU in four sets by scores of 25-27, 25-20, 25-17 and 25-20.

The Chargers collected 13 more kills than the Lakers, also hitting at a .201 mark compared to GVSU’s .098 hitting percentage. Although GVSU collected more blocks and aces, it wasn’t enough.

“Hillsdale played really well,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “We did not execute well and we could not maintain our level of play consistently. I just felt like we were crawling and scratching the entire match to stay in it. Hopefully our kids learn what it does take when you get to the postseason.”

One of the greatest factors heading into the match, and that seemed evident throughout, was experience. Fifteen of the 19 student-athletes on the Lakers’ roster had never competed at the Division II regional playoff level. Meanwhile, Hillsdale is just one year removed from a final four run.

“At this point in the year it doesn’t really matter who is ranked higher than who,” said junior middle blocker Abby Ebels, who contributed a match-high seven blocks, including a career-high three solo rejections. “I definitely think we came out with some nerves. We were passing really great, but for whatever reason, our hits just weren’t going down like they normally do.”

While nerves were abundant, emotions were also high. For senior middle blocker Eno Umoh, the loss was especially tough because it marked the final game she played in a Laker uniform.

“My teammates are like family, so it was nice to be that close to everyone,” Umoh said. “It made me enjoy, as weird as that sounds, my last game just because it was with people I love and people who love me back. It was nice to have the group of girls that I have surrounding me as teammates.”

After being named to the Daktronics All-Midwest Region first team two days before the match, Umoh made the most of her final game, tallying a team-high 14 kills and a pair of service aces. She also added four block assists, ending her career with 425, to finish second on the GVSU all-time total block assists list, as well as third on the total blocks list with 509.

It may not have necessarily been the way Umoh wanted to go out, but beyond the loss to Hillsdale, she led her Laker teammates in putting the program back on the map this season. Their 25-8 record propelled them to third in the GLIAC and made them a force to be reckoned with once again.

“I am pretty proud especially how we bounced back after last season,” Umoh said. “Once everyone grows and develops, GVSU volleyball is going to be unstoppable. I’m glad I got to be there showing them the way and hopefully everyone can learn a lot from being here.”

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