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Northern Michigan University in thick of GLIAC volleyball tournament race

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University volleyball team can clinch a berth in the GLIAC Tournament with a win today at home over Northwood.

The Wildcats also have a home match at Vandament Arena against Ferris State on Saturday, but today’s match against the Timberwolves is the key one, since Northwood is currently the first team out of the postseason.

With eight teams making the tourney and the top four hosting the next four in the opening-round quarterfinals on Nov. 20, NMU sits sixth at 6-6, 10-13 overall. Northwood is in ninth at 5-8 (5-19 overall) and a victory over the Timberwolves would give the Wildcats a three-game advantage in the loss column with three matches to go, along with a tiebreaking season sweep of Northwood.

Northern even has an outside shot at catching fourth-place Saginaw Valley State and fifth-place Grand Valley State as the Cardinals are 9-4 and GVSU 7-5. With another match at SVSU next Friday, NMU already lost in their first meeting, while the Wildcats defeated Grand Valley in their only meeting this season.

But NMU could easily slip to eighth place with a late-season swoon as seventh-place Wayne State is 6-7 and eighth-place Davenport is 5-7.

Much of this would be taken care of with victories this weekend, the Northwood match at 4:30 p.m. today and Ferris State one at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Last weekend, the Wildcats played just one match, a 3-0 home loss to Michigan Tech, which sits atop the GLIAC at 11-1 (19-4 overall), just a half-game ahead of 11-2 Ashland and Ferris.

Saturday’s match is also Senior Day as the team’s last home match of the regular season. The three seniors to be honored are Sarah Kuehn, Gabriela Martinez and Cheyanna Pyka.

Kuehn made an immediate impact with the team three years ago and has been All-GLIAC and the Wildcats’ Most Valuable Player along with 716 kills and 336 blocks, the latter seventh highest in team history.

Martinez has played in 83 matches in her career, often as a serve and defensive specialist with 35 aces and 360 digs in her career.

Pyka has fought through injuries to appear in 42 matches with 17 aces and 91 digs as a back-row performer.

Several teammates are among GLIAC leaders this season. Sophomore Lizzy Stark is fourth in the league with 3.57 sets per sets and sixth with 321 kills. Freshman Abigail Durecki is third in hitting percentage at .326 with just 60 errors in 515 attempts, the fewest errors of any GLIAC player with at least 500 attempts. Kuehn is third with 82 blocks, including 14 solo to average 0.90 blocks per set.

NMU has won its last seven matches vs. Northwood, leading the all-time series 44-26. And the Timberwolves have lost 11 of their last 12 matches, the losing streak broken up by a three-set sweep of 11th-place Lake Superior State last weekend.

After Ferris defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season, their all-time series is even at 48-48. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 20 in the nation and are 19-5 overall.

The keep up with NMU volleyball, follow the team @NMU_Wildcats on Twitter. Video for both matches will be available at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/nmu/, with live statistics for today’s match at http://nmuwildcats.com/sports/wvball/2019-20/boxscores/20191108_pbmr.xml and for Saturday’s at http://nmuwildcats.com/sports/wvball/2019-20/boxscores/20191109_4rmu.xml.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.