GVSU volleyball reflects on disappointing season
The Lakers only graduate two seniors from this year, return all starters
Some collegiate powerhouse programs are able to lose several key players after a season and not skip a beat in the next campaign. Think Kentucky men’s basketball, Alabama football and UConn women’s hoops.
Unfortunately for the usually dominant Grand Valley State volleyball team, they were unable to overcome the loss of seven seniors from last season and twelve from the last two to put together another season to remember.
The Lakers finished the season with 15 wins and 14 losses and found themselves in the middle of the GLIAC pack at 9-8 before being ousted in the first round of the conference tournament by the top team in the region.
“I don’t like to lose and neither do these kids,” said head coach Deanne Scanlon, who just wrapped up her 22nd season at the helm for GVSU. “We had our fun moments, we had great chemistry, but it’s not fun to not be in the regional tournament next weekend. It’s why they came to Grand Valley. It’s what we try to do every year.”
This 2016 campaign snaps a streak of four consecutive regional tournament appearances the Lakers had strung together which included a national semifinal appearance in 2014.
Coming into the season, the youth of the Lakers figured to be a hurdle. Not only were many of the players completely new to the college volleyball atmosphere, but they had to acquaint themselves to their new teammates before even finding themselves on the floor for practices.
The Lakers strung together four straight wins early on in the season after starting 1-3, and from there never hit a win streak longer than two nor a losing streak longer than three.
In fact, the GVSU squad split their weekend series six out of seven times this year. In those six splits, the Lakers won the Friday match and then boarded the bus the ensuing day disappointed four times.
With that kind of consistent inconsistency, it's difficult to go far.
“I think win-loss-wise we left a lot of wins on the table. The inconsistencies were big,” Scanlon said. “We weren’t able to be consistent at any point. Part of that can be attributed to our youth, but with the level this team could play, you go in Friday and you’re rolling and you have that standard and expect that of them and you leave disappointed.”
There were, of course, some strong performers for the Lakers during the season that kept the team performing at a level needed to compete.
Sophomore middle blocker Staci Brower was one of three Lakers to appear in every set this season and put up 119 blocks, by far the most on the team and fourth in the GLIAC. Brower also tallied 315 kills, good for second most for GVSU. Brower was bestowed with First Team All-GLIAC honors.
“There were a lot of bumps along the way and I wanted to improve my game, even if a lot of the things were minor like things with my arm swing,” Brower said. “It was a tough season but it was incredible to be rewarded at the end and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. It’s a team sport, so I give a lot of credit to them.”
Alongside Brower was freshman middle blocker Jayci Suseland, who put down a jaw-dropping 376 kills in her inaugural season, which was the most on the Laker team and eighth-most in the conference. She also had the second most blocks on the team with 67. Her prowess at the net earned her All-GLIAC Second Team honors.
First-year captain and junior setter Katie Olson handed out 884 assists while appearing in every set for the Lakers, conjuring 312 digs and putting down 18 aces. Her performances warranted her a spot as an All-GLIAC honorable mention.
“I thought she was given a role of being a strong leader and I thought she did a really good job of that,” Brower said of Olson. “She was pushing us to get better and was open to communication so that was important, especially because she didn’t seem to get nervous a lot even though others would. She would continue to set them and give criticism.”
Also showing their immense worth over the season were freshman defensive guru Kendall Yerkes, sophomore two-way contributor Brooke Smith, sophomore shot caller Taylor Stewart and others.
GVSU volleyball fans have reason for hope, as only two seniors – Amanda Glaza and Carley Serowoky – will graduate, leaving a majority of the team intact for next season, although it is not everything, according to Scanlon.
“We can’t rely on (the returning players). That’ll be our message to these kids. Just because we have everybody back, it’s not going to just happen. We have a commitment to make and we need to reach the goal that this group is capable of,” Scanlon said. “There’re a lot of teams in this conference who will have a lot of their best players back so we can’t just think it’ll work out.”
As for the seniors, it can be expected that they, like many who have come before them, will remain involved with the program they’ve spent so much time with.
“I definitely plan on coming back to watch the games next fall since I’m still finishing up my undergrad,” Glaza said. “I still live with three of my teammates, so I can help them through spring season too.”
Though the season ended earlier than anticipated, the Lakers can safely say that they did not go down without a fight after falling to the Ferris State Bulldogs in the GLIAC tournament in hostile territory, taking them to four sets and giving the opponent plenty to be nervous of during the match.
“It was a moral victory. Sometimes when you go through the type of the season that we had you get to the last game and just think that you want it over with and we weren’t like that,” Scanlon said. “It showed a lot of character and I’m glad we played that way.”
As long as the Lakers can take that never-back-down attitude into 2017 and couple it with the overflowing talent on the roster, the consistency is sure to follow and the girls in blue just might find themselves preparing for the postseason a year from now.