On a roll
GVL / Nathan Kalinowski
Ally Simmons (8) and Kaitlyn Wolters (7) block a Ferris State players spike.
A crowd of more than 1,000 erupted in cheers as junior captain Abby Aiken tallied the game-winning spike that put a decisive end to the battle for first place.
Aiken made her offensive presence felt as the No. 16 Grand Valley State University women’s volleyball team took a commanding lead atop the GLIAC standings after getting its revenge against rival No. 24 Ferris State University in three sets (25-20, 25-22, 30-28) on Tuesday night at the Fieldhouse Arena.
“She is just playing with a calming presence about her,” head coach Deanne Scanlon said. “She’s not afraid to take that big swing in big moments. For a setter to know that you have that kind of player on the floor, it’s just magical.”
The outside hitter led the way for the Lakers with a match-high 14 kills to go with nine digs and a trio of service aces, while junior setter Kaitlyn Wolters continued her impressive season with 39 assists, 10 digs and four kills.
GVSU (22-3, 13-1 GLIAC) has now swept both second-place teams—FSU and Northern Michigan University—in a five-day span. If it can take three of its last four regular season matches, it will win its first conference title since 2008.
“We’ve been building up to it,” Aiken said. “My freshman year wasn’t so good; last year we were so close, and this year we have everything we need to win. We’re excited.”
GVSU has pushed its winning streak to 12 games and boasts a 5-1 record against teams in the AVCA Top 25. It has won 20 of its last 21 games.
FSU was the only team able to beat the Lakers during that stretch, as the Bulldogs took a five-set thriller on Oct. 1 at a packed Ewigleben Sports Arena in Big Rapids, Mich.
“I’ve been ready for this game all week,” sophomore middle blocker Kaleigh Lound said. “Everybody has been pumped for it since we lost to them last time. We really had to come out and prove that we are better.”
Lound was assertive early on and made a number of key plays that appeared to set the tone for the entire match. She finished with four blocks and nine kills.
Her performance highlighted a stingy Laker defense that held FSU to a hitting percentage mark of .163.
“It makes it easy when we can get our hands up and shut them down right from the beginning,” Lound said. “It gets in their heads.”
GVSU seemed to make its rival work for every single point.
Junior libero Christina Canepa, sophomore outside hitter Betsy Ronda, and freshman libero Nicayla Joyce combined to make a number of diving plays to keep the ball alive. Each of the three finished with 13 digs.
Some of these defensive plays not only interrupted premature celebrations from the opposing team, but also drew cheers from the increasingly engaged crowd. The 1,022 in attendance combined to form the largest crowd since Oct. 9, 2009, when 1,025 fans came to see GVSU beat Ashland in five sets.
“We were just playing volleyball and keeping the ball off the floor,” Aiken said. “We didn’t want it to go to (a fourth set).”
Still, the Bulldogs refused to go down without a fight.
GVSU edged FSU in the second frame despite 15 tie scores and nine lead changes. The final set was even more dramatic, but the Lakers found a way to finish on top behind the play of their star outside hitters.
Aiken, who has been clutch in a number of situations this season, broke a 28-28 tie when she put down back-to-back kills that capped off the team’s 13th sweep of the 2013 campaign.
GVSU controls its own destiny down the stretch and figures to be the favorite to win the conference.
“Mathematically, we don’t have it in hand,” Scanlon said. “There’s still a cluster at the top (of the standings). We’ve separated ourselves a little bit tonight, but we have four really tight matches upcoming. We haven’t won it yet.”
The team will continue its pursuit of a GLIAC title at home this weekend against Saginaw Valley State University on Friday at 7 p.m. and Lake Superior State University on Saturday at 4 p.m.