Looking to keep rolling

Undefeated NMU spikers go on road this weekend

Northern Michigan University sophomore outside hitter Leticia Antunes, front, passes the ball while teammate Rachel Braunschweig, left, looks on in the third set of a match against Minnesota-Crookston at the Wildcat Open held in Vandament Arena in Marquette on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — After just missing the NCAA Tournament last season, the Northern Michigan University volleyball team brought back a strong core of players this fall and had the potential to land that elusive NCAA bid.

The Wildcats are already off to a great start toward that goal as they are currently 8-0 and are now ranked No. 23 in the nation. Last weekend at the Wildcat Open, NMU easily took down Minnesota Crookston, Bemidji State and St. Cloud St, but its most impressive performance came in a four-set upset of then-No. 1 Minnesota Duluth.

When asked what was the reason for this impressive start, NMU head coach Mike Lozier said it came down to doing the little things and focusing on improving each time on the court.

“We’re just doing the right things and we’re continuing to get better every day,” he said. “We got better every practice, we made adjustments every practice and we worked on all parts of our game and understand our strengths. We made some minor adjustments throughout the weekend that helped us succeed. The team right now, I don’t know how to describe it, or what it is that’s happening, but something very good is happening within this program and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

In regard to the Duluth match, the Bulldogs were just coming off of a loss to Michigan Tech and were prime for the picking, so NMU took advantage of that.

“Duluth was good but honestly, I think it was a really good team beating another really good team,” Lozier said. “The only difference was that No. 1 in front of their name. There was nothing other than that that really made them unbelievable. We played really well and shut them down.

“One of our biggest strengths and continues to be one of our biggest strengths is our serving. When you serve a team really tough and they can’t pass the ball, it makes it really hard for them to run an offense. So we slowed their offense down and we were able to easily transition into our offense, which is very potent when it’s firing on all cylinders and it was. They just couldn’t slow us down. So we served tough and got them in trouble and put our foot on the gas and never looked back.”

As good as they’ve been playing so far, the Wildcats need to keep looking forward as they take on Lake Superior State and Saginaw Valley State this weekend. However, a lot of people are already looking past those two teams and on to next Tuesday where NMU will host Michigan Tech. The Huskies made the NCAA Tournament last year and it appears as if this will be a highly competitive matchup.

Junior Sarah Kuehn, who made the Wildcat Open All-Tournament Team and leads the GLIAC in hitting percentage, knows that it’s important that the Wildcats don’t look past the Lakers and Cardinals, but admits that the upcoming battle with Tech is something to get excited about.

“First and foremost, we have to take care of business this weekend,” she said. “We don’t have to be too concerned but every team is going to give us their best shot. The way we’ve been playing, we’re going to be a big game for every team that comes out and plays against us. Looking forward to Tuesday with Michigan Tech, it’s exciting. The rivalry, in and of itself, brings in lots of fans and it’s so exciting to play for. They’re looking good this year, there’s no doubt about it. They had a huge win against Duluth as did we, but I think if we play our game and stick to our system, we’re going to be okay.

“It’s going to be a dogfight there’s no doubt about that. It’ll be a long game and long rallies are to be expected for sure, but we’ve been practicing hard and all of the girls have been going to work in practice and our coaches have been doing a great job preparing us. We’re looking forward to it and we’re super excited. It’s a big game.”

NMU plays Lake State at 6:30 pm. in Sault Ste. Marie Friday and takes on SVSU at 2 pm. Saturday. The big matchup with the Huskies is at 7 pm. Tuesday in Vandament Arena.

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