GVSU volleyball blocks out Ashland in home-opener victory
For a team that got off to a slow 3-5 start, the Grand Valley State women’s volleyball team was more than excited to finally play in front of their home fans and family.
GVSU didn’t disappoint the home fans, as the Lakers played their most complete game of the season to defeat GLIAC-rival Ashland 3-1 Friday, Sept.15.
The Lakers excelled in their work on the front line of the net, using the tall and athletic bodies of Sydney Doby, Jayci Suseland, Hannah Murdock and Staci Brower to accumulate eight blocks and 55 kills to stiffen the Ashland offensive attack.
However, the start of the game didn’t go the way the Lakers had planned, as Ashland took advantage of seven attack errors and misplaced sets by the Lakers to secure a 25-23 victory in the first set. GVSU senior Katie Olson believed the home crowd jitters got the best of the Lakers during the first set.
“We’ve played so many games (away from home), like when we were in Italy and away for two tournaments,” Olson said. “So for us to finally be on our home court, I think we were just a little too nervous.”
GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon came into the first break with one simple, but effective, piece of advice for her team.
“Breathe,” Scanlon said to her team after the first set. “I thought we were a little bit jittery in the first set. You could tell we couldn’t control the ball, so I told them to calm down and remember to breathe.”
Scanlon’s advice seemed to be the remedy for the Lakers’ issues, as GVSU cruised to a 25-8 victory in the second set. With improved passing and attacking, the Lakers began to keep the ball away from Ashland’s key hitters, including No. 5 Shelby Woycik. Woycik leads the GLIAC in kills and kills per set.
“We thought, 'OK, we can’t let (Woycik) beat us, so let’s see if someone else can,'” Scanlon said. “(Woycik) really has the ability to put some balls away. We got her backing down early on to take her out of her game.”
The Lakers continued their domination by the net in the third set, shutting down Ashland’s offense with their blocking and ability to deliver clean spikes for kills to grab a 25-12 third set victory and 2-1 lead. Brower captured four kills in the third set.
With the blocking being such a big factor in the Lakers’ defense, Olson said it made the work on the front line easier for everyone else.
“If they’re up there setting big blocks, it’s a lot easier for us in the back row to play defense,” Olson said. “On offense, I have someone I can give the ball to for a kill. It’s a huge pressure reliever off of me.”
Ashland came out of the fourth set with more energy than the previous two, but led by the back-row defense of Olson and Sydney Benchley, the Lakers clinched the 3-1 victory by taking the fourth set 25-17. Olson finished the day with 41 assists and 15 digs, while Benchley accumulated 16 total digs on defense.
The Lakers finished the game with 71 digs and 55 kills. Notable players were Brower (17 kills, three blocking assists), Shannon Winicki (12 kills) and Doby (10 kills, one solo block and four blocking assists).
GVSU’s effectiveness at blocking and passing was enough for Scanlon to tag the 3-1 victory as the team’s most solid performance so far this season.
“If you play the game of volleyball, ask anyone, but one of their favorite things to do is block an opponent because psychologically they start letting up,” Scanlon said. “The blocking we had tonight made it easier for the people to play in the back row. If you saw our defenders, we had over 70 digs.”
Brower was proud of the way her team played, especially being at home for the first time.
“It’s nice to have a win on our home court, especially when families were here,” Brower said. “A lot of the time, families can’t travel and see us. So after that first set, we decided to go have some fun and be energetic."
With the win, the Lakers improve to 4-5 (1-0 GLIAC) on the season. Although the performance was much needed, Scanlon knows this team still has more to prove.
“Right now, we’re a 4-5 team, but when you see us tonight, we’re not a 4-5 team,” Scanlon said. “Bottom line is, we need to put wins on the board. We can’t just keep saying, ‘Hey, we’re a good team.' We just have to win.”