It’s a block party: Northern Michigan University volleyball team relies on strength to defeat Michigan Tech in 4 sets

Northern Michigan University’s Leticia Antunes, top right, swings for a kill over Michigan Tech’s Lauren Emmert on Tuesday at the Student Development Complex in Houghton. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

“The funny thing is, every practice, we talk about how we can be better blockers.” — Mike Lozier, NMU head coach, on being No. 2 in the nation in blocking

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HOUGHTON — Tuesday was first-year head coach Mike Lozier’s birthday, and his Northern Michigan University volleyball team gave him just about the best present a coach can ask for — a four-set victory over Michigan Tech on the Huskies’ home court.

The Wildcats, who entered the match as the nation’s second-best blocking team with 2.81 per set, put up a wall the likes of which the Huskies had no answer for in a match that saw three close sets, 26-24, 25-21, 27-29, 25-14.

Lozier was pleased with much of what he saw. That was especially true with his squad’s 17-1 advantage in blocking, which proved to be the difference in the match.

“That fourth set, everything came together,” Lozier said. “The biggest thing we talk about is staying low to the net, penetrating low, not getting too high. That’s exactly what they did. They sealed the tape, they defended the net and that is what we need to do all season to win.”

The Huskies had no answer throughout for the efforts of senior middle blocker Kayla Chosa and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Sarah Kuehn.

“She is put in a tough position because she’s front row with the setters,” Lozier said of Chosa. “She feels a little more pressure on her to be more offensive. They were clearly keying on her. She was getting double-blocked, but she was still finishing against that double-block.”

Huskies head coach Matt Jennings had his own take on what made the Wildcats’ wall so tough to hit around or over.

“When they get your number a little bit, you can respond a couple of different ways,” Jennings said. “I wasn’t happy with the way we responded. We started to swing away. We got a little overzealous and tried to rip it.”

While the Wildcats were excellent at the net, Lozier feels there is still plenty to work on.

“The funny thing is, every practice, we talk about how we can be better blockers,” Lozier said. “Every practice, we work on it.”

In this battle of two of the top teams in the GLIAC North Division, it was the Huskies (7-4 overall, 2-1 GLIAC) who stormed out of the gates early. Jumping out to an 18-10 lead in the first set, the Huskies had everything going their way when they forced Lozier to take his second timeout to try to sort out exactly what was going wrong.

The Wildcats (9-2 overall, 3-0 GLIAC) were playing like a team in disarray, rather than being the team creating problems for their opponents. It did not help the visitors that the Huskies found a rotation where things were going exactly the way they wanted them to.

“We got in a rotation where we scored a lot of points,” Jennings said. “I was happy with that. I wanted to stay in that rotation, (but) we missed a serve and they got into the rotation that they are strongest in.”

Junior outside hitter Autumn Monsma was part of the solution for NMU after that reset. She racked up a pair of service aces as the Wildcats stormed back to eventually even the set at 23 before winning on Huskies’ errors.

In the second set, the Wildcats turned to outside hitter Leticia Antunes — and the freshman delivered, racking up 13 kills. Antunes proved to be a nice left-side option while senior right side Madison Whitehead tore through the Huskies’ defense.

Even when things weren’t going NMU’s way, Whitehead was also strong for the Wildcats as she finished with 16 kills, including six in the final set.

While the first two sets ended the way Lozier and the Wildcats wanted them to, the third was a different story. The Huskies turned to sophomore outside hitter MacAuley Peterson and MTU’s kill leader did not disappoint, picking up seven of her 16 kills.