UPDATE: The NMU spring volleyball game against Lake Superior State on Saturday has been cancelled due to the winter storm. www.nmuwildcats.com/sports/wvball/2014-15/releases/20140404q1md53
MARQUETTE - While the Northern Michigan University volleyball team's fall season is all about winning, the spring season provides a time for the athletes to focus on individual progress and for the team to improve its systems.
"I keep telling our players it's not necessarily about winning and losing, but it's about each and every player taking a step forward in development," head coach Dominic Yoder said.
In addition to the purpose, the style of spring season is much more laid back than that of the regular championship season each fall.
Officials are present just to start and stop play and keep the players safe, and the score isn't always recorded. The teams typically play nontraditional matches, such as two sets or the best two out of three, and they may play multiple teams in one day.
This spring season will be the beginning of a transition period as four of the Wildcats' regular starters during the fall season were seniors, leaving a large gap to fill in the lineup.
"This is definitely an opportunity for the young players who didn't get to play much to really show what they've learned over the last six or seven months and put that into competitive play," Yoder said.
Additionally, NMU will have no seniors on the roster next year, so the team will look toward this year's sophomore class for leadership.
"I thought our seniors did a great job of really cultivating our sophomores this past year into trying to take over the team for the future year," Yoder said.
"We'll be working with this same team for a couple years, so it's definitely going to be helpful for our development."
Northern collects statistics during the spring season to help the coaching staff gauge performances in addition to evaluating the athletes visually. From there, each player receives feedback on her skill development.
From a coaching perspective, Yoder sees the spring season as an opportunity to have the team experiment with new systems.
"We're trying to develop a little bit quicker, little bit faster-type offense, so this allows us to be able to put that into play against outside opponents," Yoder said.
The Wildcats are nearly halfway through their six-week season, which began at the Grand Valley State Tournament two weekends ago, followed by a trip to Eastern Michigan last weekend. Yoder said he's already noticed an improvement in the team's play.
"We didn't necessarily play as cohesively in the first weekend, but this past weekend our defense was scrappier and our offense was clicking a little easier, and it was evident in our game sets," Yoder said.
The Wildcats host Lake Superior State University on Saturday at the Vandament Arena in Marquette.
"We want to have fun playing against Lake State, but we want to take steps forward from this past weekend," Yoder said.
"That's really the only thing I can expect. We want to win, but we want to do it the right way."