GVSU volleyball ends season with loss to Lewis
Lakers sputter early in sets, bow out of NCAA tournament
GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Shannon Winicki (18) celebrates after a point scored. The Lakers fall to the Flyers of Lewis University Dec. 3 in Big Rapids, MI in the first round of the NCAA midwest regional tournament by a margin of 3-1.
The Grand Valley State volleyball team needed one point to get back on track to try to salvage its season after one of its most lackadaisical starts to a match all year.
Leading 24-21 in the second set, the Lakers had three chances to get that one point, but instead hit the self-destruct button and found themselves back in the huddle contemplating what just happened with the score now knotted up at 24-24.
The timeout to calm GVSU's nerves wasn’t enough as the devastating collapse couldn’t be prevented. The Lakers dropped the second set in dramatic fashion, 28-26, and the two-set deficit would prove to be too much to overcome.
Third-seeded Lewis (31-4) knocked off sixth-seeded GVSU (20-12) in the first round of the NCAA tournament last Thursday inside Jim Wink Arena on the campus of Ferris State by scores of 25-21, 28-26, 18-25, 25-20.
“The whole match could have swung on that (second set),” said GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon. “We had that second set won and we just couldn’t finish it. (Lewis) just waited for moments for us to implode and they took advantage of that.”
Lewis jumped on GVSU early with a 9-1 run to begin the match. The Flyers steadily extended their lead out to 14-3 before the Lakers finally woke up and scrambled to salvage their season.
With the Lakers trailing 22-14, senior Kourtney Wolters provided the urgency GVSU had been lacking as she crashed into the scorer’s table to save a ball from going out of play.
Senior Betsy Ronda rushed to Wolters’ aid and managed to get the ball over the net as she twisted her body around and connected on an unconventional side-arm swing.
Caught in utter amazement, the Flyers stopped playing for a split moment amidst the chaos and couldn’t recover quick enough to return the ball.
“Our team fed off of that energy,” Wolters said. “For me personally, I wasn’t going to let (the ball) die, so my teammates were like, ‘I can’t let anything else die either.’
“So, that really did flip the switch in us like, ‘All right, let’s go. We can do this.’”
The athleticism from Wolters and Ronda sparked a furious rally of five consecutive points for GVSU to put some pressure on Lewis, 19-22.
The Lakers got within two points at 21-23, but the comeback attempt fell flat. The Flyers perfectly placed a kill in a dead zone of the Lakers’ defense and then watched as GVSU senior Jessica Majerle sailed a ball wide of the court on set point.
It was one of the few times Majerle wasn’t on target with her swings as she notched a team-high 15 kills with a .243 hitting percentage.
“From a personal standpoint, it still sucks (that we lost), but it was good that I could give it my all that last game knowing that it could be my last and it was our last.” Majerle said. “So, it was satisfying that I could do well, but I really kind of wish that we would have moved on.”
Closing out the second stanza could have helped drastically in the Lakers’ quest to survive and advance. But, the end-of-set collapse pinpointed GVSU’s weaknesses with the offense struggling to find holes and the defense not challenging the Flyers enough with its blocking.
Through two sets, Lewis held the edge in hitting percentage (.250 to .167) and team blocks (5-2).
GVSU went back to its winning formula of tenacious defense in the third set. Freshman Staci Brower played a factor in four timely blocks in the frame. Brower, an AVCA All-Region Honorable Mention, finished with a team-high five rejections in the match to go with nine kills.
Brower finished her accolade-filled season as team leader in kills per set (2.71) and blocks per set (1.11).
Fellow senior middle blocker Kaleigh Lound capped off the third set with a floater over the Lewis’ blockers that dropped in to force another set. In her last match as a Laker, Lound provided eight kills and four blocks.
The fourth set started eerily similar to the first with Flyers taking the first six points and pushing their lead out to 9-2 before the Lakers were able to gain some traction.
GVSU pulled within a point multiple times at 16-17, 17-18 and 18-19, but couldn’t manage to even the score. Lewis led from start to finish in the final frame.
The match and season ended as Ronda laid out trying to make a dig, something she had done successfully 1,474 times before – fifth most in program history. But, this time, the ball bounced off her fist and smacked the hardwood at the same time she did.
“It obviously didn’t end how we (the seniors) wanted,” Ronda said. “But, we are thankful for the time and the things we achieved as a class. It’s bittersweet. You don’t want to lose early (in the tournament), but I think I’m just more sad that it’s over and the experience is over.
“It’s really surreal. I don’t think it’s going to set in for a while yet.”
Senior libero Taylor Shomin (22 digs), Ronda (15) and Wolters (14) all recorded double-digits in digs. Sophomore setter Katie Olson dished out a match-high 41 assists to complement her 11 digs.
The box score exposes how close the match actually was in contrast to the final score. Both teams scored 66 points and had 53 kills. Lewis had the better hitting percentage (.186 to .182), but GVSU had more digs (76-70) and blocks (9-8).
In the end, the seemingly unfixable problem throughout the season – not being able to close out tight sets – surfaced again and ended the Lakers’ 2015 campaign.
“For some reason it’s just a hump this team has never been able to get over all season,” Scanlon said. “When you look at the wins and losses it’s obviously frustrating because I think this team did underachieve. But, on the other hand, this is a team that I really enjoyed being around.
“They’re wonderful girls. I wish it could have been a more successful season for them.”