GVSU volleyball report card reveals middling grade

Lakers are set for first round of NCAA tournament

By Alex Eisen | 11/29/15 10:28am

GVL/Luke Holmes Betsy Ronda (no.6) jumps up to spike the ball. Grand Valley lost to Ferris State in 3 games Nov. 21.

From the agony of being on the bubble to the elation of getting its ticket punched, the Grand Valley State volleyball team found out over Thanksgiving break that it was one of the 64 teams with a shot at challenging for a national championship.

Getting back to the Final Four in consecutive seasons will be a daunting task, but the Lakers shouldn’t be taken lightly as the sixth seed in the Midwest Region.

GVSU (20-11) is going to need a Cinderella-esque run to make it out of the region as the Lakers will likely be the underdog in every match they play.

The time for studying is over. Here are the Lakers' grades heading into their exam week.

Offense: C+

It’s not like the Lakers don’t have enough weapons. They have plenty.

On the outside they have senior experience with Betsy Ronda, Jessica Majerle and Kourtney Wolters. Ronda was named to the All-GLIAC Second Team and Majerle was dominant at the GLIAC tournament, getting placed on the All-GLIAC Tournament Team.

Redshirt freshman Shannon Winicki and true freshman Brooke Smith are also viable options coming off the bench and are capable of providing a big swing when called upon.

The heart of the team, however, is located up the middle. The powerful tag-team of freshman Staci Brower and senior Kaleigh Lound has generated 37 percent of the Lakers’ kills.

While Brower got the recognition by winning GLIAC Freshman of the Year and being named to the All-GLIAC First Team, Lound leads all of GVSU’s attackers with a .278 hitting percentage.

There is also more stability in getting the ball up to the hitters as the Lakers transitioned from a 6-2 formation to a more conventional 5-1 formation in the last few weeks. Sophomore Katie Olson has emerged as the primary setter after previously sharing time with freshman Taylor Stewart.

So, why such an average grade? Consistency and being their own worst enemy.

“I think the one thing that has held this team back all season long is the fear of being great,” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “It’s time to get over that. When you work hard enough and you think you’re worthy of winning, there should be no fear of failure involved.”

Unable to close out tight sets and untimely errors have prevented the Lakers from taking that next step from being a good team to a great team.

The firepower is there. Any hitter could go off and have a double-digit kill game, but with every strong individual performance, there are other hitters who are grinding it out and can’t seem to get the ball down.

The Lakers are nigh unstoppable when everyone comes out firing on all cylinders. But, those matches have been few and far between.

As for the miscues, GVSU has tossed up 242 service errors. Their opponents: 167.

Defense: A

GVSU doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament without its physical presence in front of the net.

The Lakers have out-blocked their opponents by a large margin this season (302.0 to 209.5). Their 2.56 blocks per set is best in the GLIAC and 11th-best in the nation for Division II.

Brower is ranked second in the conference in blocks per set (1.11) and solo blocks (31).

Senior libero Taylor Shomin has been arguably the surprise of the season after spending three seasons with the club volleyball program. The GLIAC Honorable Mention is third in the conference in digs (540) and sixth in digs per set (4.58).

Ronda is also as sure-handed as it gets while occupying the back row. She ranks fifth all-time in program history for digs.

GVSU has collectively dug out 18.78 balls per set (15th best in the nation) and has held opposing teams to a .136 hitting percentage (24th best in the nation).

The defense has carried the Lakers multiple times this season, especially when they get into one of their occasional rough patches on offense.

Coaching: A

It has not been easy for Scanlon and the coaching staff.

Coming into the season, 10 of the 19 players on the roster were new to the team. It has been a mix-and-match process since opening day, and just when it looked like they had it all figured out, injuries and illnesses made the coaching staff start all over again.

From switching formations to continually rotating hitters, Scanlon has pulled out all the stops. The experimental phase is still ongoing because the coaching staff is never afraid to change something if it’s not working.

While the results have been varied, Scanlon did pick up her 546th career victory against Ashland in quarterfinals of the conference tournament to make her the all-time winningest coach in program history. So, there is validation to the madness.

The Lakers’ flexibility to adapt and make the proper adjustments might just be the advantage they need to make steps forward throughout the playoffs.

Team Grade: B+

No. 6 GVSU looks to upset No. 3 Lewis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m. The match will be played at Ferris State inside Jim Wink Arena.

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