GV volleyball finds their rhythm at Capital Classic


GVL / Annabelle Robinson

Justice Steiner, Staff Writer

After opening their season 1-3, the Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team traveled to Springfield, Illinois to compete in the Capital Classic Volleyball Tournament. 

First-year head coach, Jason Johnson, said heading into the second tournament of the season, he was more focused on developing the team chemistry and growing as a team, rather than wins and losses. 

Johnson and the Lakers haven’t had an easy schedule by any means to start the 2021 season. The team had their first match of the tournament Friday morning, Sept. 10, against Northwest Missouri State, who’s ranked eighth in the AVCA Division II coaches poll.

Although NWMSU is ranked inside the top 10 in the nation, the Lakers did not back down from the challenge. GVSU took the first set of the match in a nail-biting 32-30 victory. After falling short in the second set 19-25, the Lakers took a 2-1 lead over NWMSU, winning the third set 25-19. 

However, on the brink of being upset by the unranked Lakers, NWMSU fought back and won both the fourth and fifth sets, winning the match, 3-2. 

“We have had four matches versus top 25 opponents this year and have gone 1-3, two of those losses were in five sets,” Johnson said. “While I love to find the positives to take away from matches, we are still trying to figure out how to find our identity within these matches and finish the job.” 

Leading the way for the Lakers was sophomore Sarah Wight, who tallied 18 kills and eight blocks. Junior Erin O’Leary added 27 digs in the effort to upset NWMSU. 

Following the hard-fought first match, the Lakers took the court against McKendree University for their second and final match of the day. GVSU didn’t have much of a struggle, sweeping the Bearcats in three sets (25-23, 25-19, 26-16). 

“I think we are getting closer, I love how hard our team plays, I love how connected we are as a group, but making the plays under pressure is something we are learning about ourselves,” Johnson said. 

Helping lead the way for the Lakers were a pair of juniors, Ali Thompson and Abby Graham, who had 15 digs each. Junior Karlie Kucharczyk chipped in with 15 kills and sophomore Jaelianna Primus added seven kills and five blocks.

“Although we don’t feel like tonight was the best game we’ve put together so far this season, we continued working and playing together from start to finish,” Thompson said. “It felt good to put another win on the board.”

Day two was a near-perfect day for the Lakers as they dominated both of their matches, bringing their record on the season to 4-4. 

In the first match-up of the second day, Saturday, Sept. 11, GVSU took the court against the University of Illinois Springfield where the Lakers secured the win in three sets (25-23, 25-20, 25-13). The following match, which was the team’s final match of the tournament, ended in similar fashion as the Lakers swept Lake Erie College (25-17, 25-12, 25-12). 

After a challenging out-of-conference schedule and eight games into the 2021 season, Thompson said the transition into the Johnson era has been smooth to this point, especially after having him as an assistant coach years prior. 

“We are definitely learning more about ourselves and how to play together along with what it takes to compete against top quality teams,” Johnson said. “I am hopeful this will prepare us for a tough conference schedule this season.”

Looking ahead, the Lakers will begin conference play this coming weekend with back-to-back games on the road. Friday, Sept. 17,  they will head to Houghton, Michigan to take on Michigan Tech, before heading to Northern Michigan to face the Wildcats on Sept. 18.