No. 22 Lakers continue GLIAC play with pair of wins
GVSU, Majerle trounce ODU, Tiffin in conference matchups
The setter no-look kill attempt nearly fooled Grand Valley State senior libero Taylor Shomin, but her fist popped the ball up instead of the ball hitting the hardwood. The lengthy first-set exchange continued.
The ball sailed back and forth over the net 19 times before an Ohio Dominican attacker finally ended the point by smacking the ball into the net. Tenacious defense set the tone for the rest of the match.
Decked out in pink for its annual Dig Pink game to support breast cancer research, the No. 22 GVSU volleyball team compiled a season-high 102 digs in four sets Friday night to defeat ODU (7-9, 2-5 GLIAC) by scores of 25-14, 25-19, 18-25, 25-19.
GVSU (10-5, 6-1 GLIAC) then improved its home winning streak to seven games on Saturday afternoon by sweeping Tiffin (7-6, 4-3 GLIAC) in straight sets (25-23, 28-26, 25-15).
Coming into the weekend the Lakers had never lost a set to either GLIAC school in program history, 39-0. Dropping the third set to ODU came as a surprise.
“(ODU) came out serving tough and you can see what happens when we don’t pass well,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “They got a couple of aces and we got tentative and a little scared. But, I thought we rallied back a little bit at the end of that set to get a little bit of momentum heading into set four.”
In the sets GVSU won, ODU never led. The Lakers quickly jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the opening frame – exactly the urgency Scanlon wanted from her team.
“Everyone is coming at us, they walk in here and see those banners and know we are a Final Four team from last year,” Scanlon said. “Even though we aren’t the same team that we were last year, in everybody else’s mind it just doesn’t matter.
“We can’t ease in and wait to see what the match is going to bring, because we can pretty much guarantee it’s going to bring intensity from the other side of the net right from the first point.”
Freshmen Brooke Smith, Staci Brower and Shannon Winicki countered that intensity from the first whistle and got support from a trio of seniors: Betsy Ronda, Jessica Majerle and Kaleigh Lound. All six players finished both matches with over five kills and contributed at least six points.
Back in form after recovering from a sprained ankle, Smith led the offense against ODU by knocking down 13 kills. Brower wasn’t far behind, backing up her GLIAC North Player of the Week honors, with 11 kills and four blocks – two solo.
After moving up to eighth all-time in program history for digs last week, Ronda climbed up another rung Friday surpassing Cindy Corstange by recording 29 digs. 29 digs is second-most in a single game for her college career, coming four digs short of her personal best from last season against Augustana (S.D.).
In the sweep against Tiffin, the Lakers’ offense ignited for a season-best team hitting percentage of .341. GVSU closed the game out with 17 kills and one error in 26 attack attempts in the third set.
Majerle was the most efficient hitter in both matches hitting at .316 (8 kills) and .471 (9 kills) clips, respectively – a drastic improvement from the .077 hitting percentage she had in the loss at No. 4 Ferris State on Sept. 29.
The wins were not just bounce back games for Majerle, but for the team as a whole.
“I feel like we were a lot more conformable with ourselves,” Majerle said. “Anxiety wasn’t taking over us and I feel like we were under control and working together. I also felt like we were a lot scrappier on defense.”
After redshirting last season, Winicki has emerged as a reliable outside hitter in the past two weeks, putting down 35 kills in five games. She started the season with 16 kills in 10 games.
More playing time for Winicki helped solidify a primary starting lineup. Whether the rotating pattern is permanent or not remains to be seen, but the players have already noticed the benefits after doing a lot of mixing-and-matching to start the season.
“We are building our trust more with each other now,” Winicki said. “Our communication with each other the court is a lot better and we can trust the player next to us has our back.”
GVSU travels to Ohio next week to face conference opponents Lake Erie (5-8, 1-6 GLIAC) on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. and Ashland (11-4, 6-1 GLIAC) on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m.