MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University volleyball team has rubbed elbows with GLIAC rivals, NCAA Division II tournament qualifiers and a Div. I Final Four participant this spring.
Now, the Wildcats get a chance to play in front of their own fans on their home court of Vandament Arena on Saturday against Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State and an NMU alumni squad featuring honorable mention all-American setter Brittany McGowan (2007) and all-region honorable mention outside hitter outside hitter Mandie Meyer (2009), who is now an assistant coach at Northern.
"It's always been important to me to have home events so the fans can come out and see the team play since it's been so long since they saw them play last," NMU head coach Dominic Yoder said.
Northern Michigan University sophomore libero Alex Berger passes the ball during a spring practice drill on Tuesday inside Vandament Arena in Marquette. NMU hosts Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State and an alumni squad on Saturday in the NMU Spring Volleyball Tournament at Vandament Arena. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Wildcats senior middle hitter Sarah Hamilton delivers a kill during a spring practice drill on Tuesday inside Vandament Arena in Marquette. NMU hosts Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State and an alumni squad on Saturday in the NMU Spring Volleyball Tournament at Vandament Arena. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"We just want to show the fans what we're all about. Michigan Tech has had some injuries so this is going to be their only spring competition of the year. The same thing for Lake State with a new coach. Having the alumni team back, we have a pretty good team."
Dating back to March 23, Northern has traveled to Eastern Michigan, Oakland and Minnesota-Duluth and scored victories over GLIAC rivals Grand Valley State and conference champion Northwood, who were both NCAA tournament participants in the fall. So was UMD, who NMU also beat.
The 'Cats defeated Div. I Eastern Michigan in Yipsilanti, but fell to Div. I national semifinalists Michigan in straight sets.
NMU Spring Tournament
At Vandament Arena, Saturday
(Subject to change)
11 a.m. - MTU v. LSSU; NMU v. Alumni
1:15 p.m. - MTU v. Alumni; LSSU v. NMU
2:30 p.m. - LSSU v. Alumni; MTU v. NMU
"We've played a pretty tough schedule," Yoder said. "Our schedule has been pretty hard, pretty challenging, especially only having 11 players that are traveling with us right now. It makes it a real competitive opportunity to play well."
The Wildcats are coming off a 20-12 campaign this fall with a 12-6 GLIAC mark that was good for fifth in the league. NMU was beaten at Ashland in the first round of the conference tournament.
Both of the team's 2012 All-GLIAC first-team picks, outside hitter Lina Lopes and setter Kellisha Harley will be back in the fall as seniors, as will All-GLIAC honorable mention middle hitter Kalli Herron, who will also be a senior.
Yoder highlighted two players returning from injuries sustained in the fall - setter Alex Berger and middle hitter Alexis Nelson - who will both be sophomores.
In addition to their reintroduction to the team, NMU is bringing in left side hitter Megan Crane out of Beach Park, Ill., and a "Div. I talent" who Yoder will be able to announce after the spring season.
Harley, who Yoder described as a "Godsend," will be a key component for the Wildcats in 2013. This spring, the Wildcats' coach has the transfer taking more calculated risks heading into her second season at NMU after two years at Iowa Lakes Community College.
"It's really about her mind right now," Yoder said. "Physically she's a talent, even though she's 5-foot-6, she's a physical talent. She needs to improve her accuracy and risk taking, make sure its an appropriate risk."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.
Editor's note: Story updated to reflect NMU will be announcing the addition of a Div. I talent, not transfer.