GVSU finds their way back to postseason after one-year absence

Zach Sepanik

It’s the second season, if you will, otherwise known as the playoffs — a place where Grand Valley State University volleyball has experienced much success over the years.

A majority of that success can be attributed to GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon, who is in her 18th year at the helm of the program. She has led the Lakers to 18-straight winning seasons, including 14 with at least 20 wins, and it is the postseason that brings out the best in her coaching abilities.

Scanlon’s postseason résumé features GVSU volleyball’s lone national championship, coming in 2005, and is also highlighted by three trips to the NCAA Elite Eight and four appearances in the Final Four.

“You have to have great kids in order to win and to consistently be there competing for championships,” Scanlon said. “I’ve been able to do that because the university gives us great resources to provide for our program, to make it attractive for student-athletes.”

While the 2011 season was the first time since 1999 that Scanlon and the Lakers did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, GVSU is back on the national stage this season.

After defeating Hillsdale College and Wayne State University to reach the finals of the GLIAC conference tournament where they fell to Northwood University on Nov. 18, the Lakers have earned the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region of the NCAA Tournament.

For 15 of the 19 athletes on the roster, it will be the first time they have competed at the Division II postseason level. They have a small taste of what it will be like following the GLIAC tournament, but they understand the intensity increases the farther they advance.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere, just so much more energetic,” said freshman outside hitter Betsy Ronda. “All the work you have put in all year comes down to this. This is where you can have fun with it.”

The rest of the team features a group of veterans in senior middle blocker Eno Umoh, junior middle blocker Abby Ebels, junior right side hitter Sam Phillips and junior libero Sacha Gill. Umoh was a part of the 2008 team that made it to the Final Four, while all four athletes were part of an Elite Eight run in 2010.

They will be able to offer the leadership to help guide the team as it prepares for a playoff run.

“We make the younger girls see that you have to expect effort from every team that you play,” Umoh said. “They are bringing everything they got and we have no time to get down on ourselves. This is do or die for every single one of the teams in the tournament.”

The combination of youth, with a pinch of experience, is something that Scanlon said resembles her 2005 national championship team. That group featured a freshman setter, a sophomore libero and two sophomore outside hitters, along with a senior leader.

“We were a fairly young team when we won the national championship,” Scanlon said. “We had a great senior middle (blocker) that really led us so we are mirroring that with Eno and what she is providing. There are a lot of similarities. The team chemistry is a lot alike and I’ve referred to that championship team a lot with this young group in that we are not going to use it as an excuse that we are young.”

GVSU has shown the talent and determination of a playoff team, evident in their 25-7 record. It will now be a matter of implementing a style of play that feeds off the adrenaline and “win-or-go-home” situation of the moment.

“When you are playing in the postseason, you have to be aggressive; you have to be willing to push the limits in order to get your best performance,” Scanlon said. “You just can’t play it safe.”

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