End of an era: GVSU's run ends in Final Four
SMSU spoils perfect tournament bid for Lakers in sweep
Left to right: GVSU's Christina Canepa, Deanne Scanlon and Abby Aiken
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Grand Valley State volleyball players Abby Aiken, Christina Canepa, Clair Ruhenkamp and Ally Simmons labored through a 14-13 season as freshman in 2011. It was the worst season in Deanne Scanlon’s 20-year tenure as head coach.
Three years, three GLIAC titles, the addition of two twin sisters and a Midwest Region Tournament crown later -- the same group helped bring GVSU to the Division II semifinals.
“We wanted to leave our mark on Grand Valley, come together and have fun,” Simmons said of the 2014 seniors. “The four of us that started freshman year will tell you -- it was awful. There were so many times that (Canepa) and I thought, ‘We’ve got to quit, we’ve got to get out of here.’ So for us girls to stick together and pull through -- it was awesome.”
The group’s journey came to a close in a 3-0 loss (25-19, 25-23, 25-18) to Southwest Minnesota State in the Final Four on Friday. SMSU finished with a .288 hitting-percentage clip in the semifinal contest while limiting the Lakers to a season-low mark of .105.
“It certainly wasn’t how we wanted to represent ourselves, but I would say Southwest Minnesota had a lot to do with that,” Scanlon said. “They just were exceptional, we knew that watching them last night in that five-set win coming back from 0-2, that they had a resiliency about them. That’s why they were here and got through that tough region, so hats off to them, they played well. But bottom line -- I’m proud of these guys.”
GVSU finishes with a 27-6 record. The Lakers swept their opponent 22 times this season, won the Midwest Regional and did not lose a set in the tournament before Friday’s match.
SMSU redshirt freshman middle blocker Eisha Oden set the tone from the start by blasting a ball to the floor in the first set, and the hard-hitting Mustangs never seemed to lose momentum. Oden finished with a game-high 11 kills and a .526 hitting percentage.
Although the Mustangs held a clear edge in both kills (48-32) and assists (46-29), GVSU didn’t go down without a fight. There were 12 tie scores and seven lead changes.
“It’s hard knowing that it ended the way it did, but knowing that we got here is a cool feeling especially because none of us have been here before,” Aiken said.
The senior leader finished with a team-high nine kills to go with eight digs. Fellow outside hitter, junior Betsy Ronda, added eight kills and eight digs while senior setter Kaitlyn Wolters had 23 assists and three kills.
When asked about her senior class in the post-game press conference, a teary-eyed Scanlon said how much the group meant to her program.
“It’s just really hard for me to talk about this group of six kids,” Scanlon said. “I love these kids. But I’m also proud, and it’s time. It’s time for them to move on, and it’s time for those underclassmen to see what it takes. What kind of leadership and commitment that it takes to do something that these kids did.
“They’re never going to be fully gone.”