Why GVSU is a dangerous Elite Eight team

Column: Lakers head to Louisville firing on all cylinders

By Jay Bushen | 11/30/14 11:23pm

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In four days, I saw the Grand Valley State volleyball team go from pretty good to elite.

GVSU didn’t play well in its 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the GLIAC Tournament championship match on Nov. 16. The Lakers were outplayed, outmatched and running out of time to turn things around.

Somewhere between that loss and the start of the Midwest Regional, however, they flipped a switch – because GVSU looked like a different team in that tournament.

The Lakers bounced Missouri S&T and FSU – teams that combined to hand GVSU three of its five losses this season – before rolling Rockhurst in a one-sided championship match. All three opponents saw their season end in less than 75 minutes.

The NCAA Tournament began with 64 teams, and 63 of them lost at least one set in the first three rounds. The Midwest Region’s No. 3 seed, GVSU (26-5), is the only exception.

The six-member senior class deserves a lot of credit for the four-day turnaround.

When GVSU needed a big play in the regional semifinal match against FSU – the seventh meeting between the GLIAC North rivals in two seasons – the seniors stepped up. 

Abby Aiken brought energy with emphatic kills early, and finished with 20 digs. GLIAC Libero of the Year Christina Canepa was a calming defensive presence, as usual, with 19 digs. Ally Simmons, with a few of her signature windmill kills, hit .417. Kourtney Wolters came up with timely kills of her own.

Their ability to lead by example will be key in Louisville.

Another senior, GLIAC Player of the Year Kaitlyn Wolters, is looking like a human highlight reel so far. Wolters’ three-match stat line is impressive: 105 assists, 31 digs and four service aces. She’s added 17 kills – and zero attack errors – for a .447 hitting percentage.

I think of John Stockton: a pass-first playmaker that knows when to attack and keeps opponents guessing with no-look passes (or surprise kills). She’s the catalyst.

Wolters, the first-ever GLIAC Setter of the Year, also knows what it takes to win in the postseason. She and her twin sister, Kourtney, won a NJCAA Division II National Championship at Grand Rapids Community College in 2012. That experience can’t hurt.

The seniors are a big reason for GVSU’s success, but they aren’t the only ones making plays.

Junior middle blocker Kaleigh Lound was a fierce presence inside for GVSU in those matches. She was playing with a chip on her shoulder, and opponents looked intimidated.

The more Lound gets the ball, the better GVSU plays offensively. She takes pressure off Aiken and junior Betsy Ronda outside, and she usually makes the most of her opportunities.

Lound has 31 kills and just four attack errors on 59 swings so far in the tournament. That’s good enough for a .458 hitting percentage. She was also a dominant force defensively, tallying 13 total blocks (12 block assists, one solo block) in that span.

GVSU is limiting teams to a .122 hitting-percentage clip through three matches. Canepa and Lound have a lot to do with it, but everyone seems to be playing well defensively.

The team has momentum. It has senior leadership. It has playmakers across the starting lineup and off the bench – like Carley Gross or freshmen Sydney Doby and Katie Olson – and it’s playing well defensively. It also has a coach who knows how to win big games.

GVSU is in good hands with Deanne Scanlon at the helm.

With a career record of 525-152 and 20 winning seasons in 20 years, it’s easy to see why Scanlon’s players are bought in. She’s a winner – and she’s led nine GVSU teams to the Elite Eight since 2000. She’s won more of those games than she’s lost (5-3 record).

Scanlon’s 2005 Lakers, for example, entered the NCAA Tournament with a 23-6 record. Their last loss of the regular season was at FSU. They beat FSU in the postseason. They took down Rockhurst in the regional title match – and their run didn’t end in the Elite Eight.

GVSU went on to win its first-ever national championship that year.

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