GV volleyball falls one set short of GLIAC Championship title


Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

Madeleine Smith, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team put up a strong effort in the GLIAC Tournament this past week as they were just one set away from finishing as conference champions. As the sixth seed in the conference, GVSU had to face all three opponents on the road; Davenport University (3-2), Northern Michigan (3-2) and Ferris State (2-3).

Set one against the Panthers saw the opponent jump out to a 4-11 advantage over GVSU. However, the Lakers were able to pull back to within two points (12-14) but just couldn’t muster a strong enough comeback to get out in front as DU wouldn’t allow their lead to drop below three points going forward and ultimately took the first set, 22-25.

Dropping the first set in a match has been a common theme for the Lakers, but their ability to recover in the remainder of said matches has been a testament to their continuity. 

A few unanswered points allowed GVSU to build a 7-3 lead early on in the second, but the Panthers were able to bring it back to within a point (12-11) several rallies later. 

At this point, the Lakers looked as if they might take control of the second set as they went on yet another scoring run (5-1), but DU wouldn’t let up as the set would create a back-and-forth scoring battle all the way down to the wire – until the Lakers finally took the set win, 26-24.

DU’s 3-7 lead in set three didn’t faze the Lakers as they mounted a late scoring run (10-5) when the set was tied at 15 apiece, 25-20. Dropping two-straight sets at home was a mental boost for the Panthers as they recovered in a statement set four win that finished 12-25.

GVSU saw just two regular-season matches that went down to a winner take all situation (1-1). However, this time meant win or go home, and the Lakers proved they weren’t ready to finish the season.

It seemed as though the Panthers were ready to close the match for good as the huge momentum boost from the previous set created a 2-6 lead. The Lakers quickly turned it around, however, as they mounted a huge 13-6 scoring run to stun their opponent and advance to the second round, 15-12.

“Honestly, not a lot was working for us early in the match,” said head coach Jason Johnson. “(Freshman setter) Jordyn Gates really kept us afloat early in the match with her offense. As the match went on, I felt that our team settled in and it came down to the grittiness of our players.” 

Gates, who was named to the GLIAC First-Team All-Conference, has been a catalyst for the Lakers all season long. Logging 20 kills, 23 assists and 22 digs in the quarterfinals victory, Gates said it was a humbling feeling to win in a familiar city alongside her teammates.

“Being able to compete in my hometown and have my family and friends there to support is a feeling I can’t even describe,” Gates said. “I’ve faced a lot of adversity (already) in my collegiate career, so being able to compete at a high level and win as the underdog is the confidence we need moving forward. I couldn’t do any of it without my teammates.”

As the underdogs once more in the semifinal match against the second-seeded NMU, the Lakers had only one day of rest to hopefully claim another victory. On top of which, they were not able to defeat the opponent in the two regular-season meetings (0-3 Sept. 9, 2-3 Oct. 22).

GVSU was able to keep the first set within striking distance early on (5-6), but NMU would ultimately take full control as a 12-19 run by the Wildcats would finish the set, 17-25.

The second set was back and forth all the way down to the final points as neither team could get the best of the other for the most part. That was until the set was tied at 23, and the Lakers capitalized on a scoring error by the Wildcats to put a point of their own on the board and finish out set two, 25-23.

Another close battle ensued in the third as GVSU expanded on its momentum from the one previous and took a second-straight set, 25-22. The potential of being sent home early with the Lakers leading 2-1 in the match fueled the Wildcats in a huge surge.

Just one point shy of closing out the match, GVSU used a late run to go up 24-21. However, NMU miraculously saved themselves and put up five-unanswered points to stun the Lakers and win set four, 24-26. 

The Lakers were up 8-5 at the start of the final set, but NMU once again came back and seemed as though they would send the Lakers home while they sat one point away from the match win (13-14). 

GVSU scored two-straight points and the Wildcats stepped on their own tail on another late attack error to give the Lakers the set-and-match win (16-14) and a ticket to the championship match. 

On fire, Gates tallied her 12th triple-double of the season (18 kills, 22 assists, 18 digs) and took over the NCAA DII leaderboard at first overall while also adding six blocks. Freshman outside hitter Stover had 13 kills and seven digs, while junior middle blocker/right-side hitter Sarah Wight had nine kills and nine blocks, tying a career-high.

“It was a very defining moment for us going forward (into the title match),” Gates said.

For the first time since the 2014 season, GVSU advanced to the GLIAC Tournament Championship. However, an arduous battle against the long-time rival Ferris State University was yet another mental and physical challenge as GVSU hadn’t beaten the opponent in the regular season (1-3 Oct. 8, 1-3 Oct. 28).

After the two teams traded points to open set one, FSU took control with a 0-6 run as they didn’t let up, winning the first set 16-25. Several lead changes in the second set eventually resulted in the Bulldogs winning a second-straight set (23-25) and taking a 0-2 match lead.

Set three was filled with scoring runs being exchanged and momentum shifting rather quickly. 

Down four points, GVSU put up six-unanswered points to retake the lead at 18-16 and didn’t look back as the continued scoring surge led to the Lakers winning the set, 25-20. Set four was more or less all about GVSU as they steadily won 25-17 to force a set five and another do-or-die situation for the conference title.

Both sides traded points all the way down to the wire in the final set, with the lead changing three times. A slim 9-8 lead by the Lakers wouldn’t last as Ferris went on a 2-6 run and one point away from the title. 

Surviving two more situations of the Bulldogs needing just one more to close out the match, the Lakers went on a two-point run to take a 17-16 lead. However, Ferris would capitalize on a point, a service error and threw salt in the wound on a service to close the match, 17-19. 

Gates recorded another triple-double (career-high 25 kills, 25 assists, career-high 23 digs), Stover (13 kills, seven digs), senior middle blocker Maddie McCabe (10 kills), and eight kills each from senior outside hitter Savannah Thompson and junior middle blocker/right side hitter Sara Wight.

Two other Lakers received GLIAC honors as Wight and Stover were named Second-Team All-Conference and junior setter Rachel Jacquay (34 assists, 14 digs against FSU) was announced as Honorable Mention All-Conference.

This loss marks the end of the Lakers season as the team finished with an overall record of 19-13 (10-8 conference play).