New coach, new season for Wildcats

NMU spikers get set for 2017

Northern Michigan University's Kayla Chosa, left, goes up for a kill against several Michigan Tech blockers during their GLIAC match at MTU on Tuesday night, Nov. 1, 2016. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

MARQUETTE — The 2016 season was one of mixed results for the Northern Michigan University volleyball team.

The Wildcats finished with an above .500 record at 17-14, but finished 8-9 in the GLIAC and missed the conference tournament. Shortly after the season ended, head coach Dominic Yoder resigned and was originally replaced by Rashinda Reed. However, Reed left to take another job shortly after being hired and the Wildcats then chose Wayne State assistant coach Mike Lozier to be the new bench boss.

Even though Lozier is new to the program, he watched the Wildcats closely last season and had some overall thoughts on how the year went.

“We are returning the majority of our roster and a lot that contributed to the team last season,” he said. “So when I look at the potential and what I’ve seen on the court, the word I’d use to describe last year is underachieved. I don’t think they reached the level of what they were capable of. That being said, it’s also kind of exciting because a lot of those players have been working out in the gym this spring and participation has been pretty steady on campus. I’m not going to think much about last season, but I think this year will be interesting with the athletes coming back.”

Northern’s strength this year lies with its senior hitters, Madison Whitehead and Kayla Chosa. Whitehead led the team in kills last year with 383 and was named to the All-GLIAC Second Team for the second straight year. Chosa led the Wildcats in total blocks with 110 and was second in kills, so NMU definitely has some height and power. Senior setter Jami Hogeboom will also play a big role after leading the team in assists (1,242) while finishing fourth in digs and total blocks. Finally, junior outside hitter Autumn Monsma will also be looked to for leadership after finishing third on the team in digs and fifth in kills.

“All of our seniors are going to be important this year,” Lozier said. “On the right side, Madison has been consistently one of the best players in the conference. With Kayla, during her first two years, she got some all-conference accolades and after not getting one last year, I think it left a bad taste in her mouth. Jami played the majority of the time last year and has been really putting her time in this offseason. For all three of them though, the overwhelming goal is to succeed as a team. They’ve come together well and have been leading the charge. Autumn has also been working out a ton and doing everything she could to better herself for the fall.”

Some fans might think that height is the most important asset for a volleyball team to have, but Lozier says that is not always the case.

“There are two schools of thought,” he said. “You can have players who are tall and strong, or have smaller and athletic players. We’re going to have a nice mix. In the middle, we’re going to be a little bigger, but the biggest thing is that we’re trying to change is making our offense more effective and you need to have dynamic and versatile players to do so. Height is a bonus, but I’m looking more for players who want to play at the speed I want to play.”

When looking at the GLIAC, Lozier said that for the first time in quite a while, the conference is anybody’s to win.

“My entire career has been in the GLIAC, so I think I have a decent handle on it and I think more than ever, the conference is up for grabs,” he said. “A lot of teams are going to be relying on younger athletes to step in and have a bigger impact. Ferris State has been the best team in the conference the past five years by a long shot, but they lost their starting setter. Grand Valley (State) took a step back last year, but they’ve been developing some good players. I think our team has a lot of veteran leadership and that may help us make a push this year. We could do some special things on the court, but no team is going to run away with it. I think last year, people knew that Ferris was going to win it, but I don’t think that’s the case this year.”

Northern opens its season with the Ferris State Invitational Sept. 1-2 and that will be followed by the Michigan Tech Invitational in Houghton Sept. 8-9. The Wildcats’ first home weekend will be Sept. 15-16 where they will host Saginaw Valley State Friday and Lake Superior State Saturday.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.