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Delayed start may prove beneficial: Northern Michigan University volleyball team willing to wait until today for season opener

Northern Michigan University’s Lauren Van Remortel makes a set in a GLIAC match against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28, 2019, at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“At that point (we had been) somewhere in the neighborhood of 447 days since we’d competed.” — Mike Lozier, head coach, NMU volleyball

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MARQUETTE — It’s an understatement to say the Northern Michigan University volleyball team has had an interesting year.

The Wildcats’ typical fall season was postponed due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now, it’s about to start with the season’s opening matches set for this afternoon at Ferris State.

NMU head coach Mike Lozier said Monday that it hasn’t been easy, but his team has made the best of the situation.

Northern Michigan University's Lauren Van Remortel attempts to save a ball heading out of bounds in the fifth set as teammate Lizzy Stark looks on in a GLIAC volleyball match played against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28, 2019, at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“We weren’t chasing normalcy,” he said. “We were chasing any way to be able to practice, to get together and any time we were able to get in the gym as a group, we considered that a win.

“So it did allow us to have a positive outlook for most of the fall. We did get shut down right before November, which was a big hit because we felt like we were finally jelling.

“But this semester’s been great. We started off at the end of January and been going ever since. Being able to practice, I’m very grateful that they started testing us (for coronavirus) so we were able to practice within close proximity, still masked.

“It’s been great. We scrimmaged (Michigan) Tech this last Saturday and learned a lot and it had been at that point, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of 447 days since we’d competed.

“When you put the right spin on it, which as a coach you’ve got to find the right English, you can make anything a positive. So the fact that we were in the gym with another team was a win. We weren’t chasing … fall 2019 at all. We were just adapting to what was given to us.”

Northern Michigan University head volleyball coach Mike Lozier discusses technique with the Wildcats' Lizzy Stark during a timeout in the fourth set of a GLIAC volleyball match played against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28, 2019, at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

Lozier said he’s been impressed with how hard his players have worked, as well as the improvements they’ve made on offense. Much of that was due to the help of new assistant coach Pookie Gonzalez, who arrived last March.

“She (Gonzalez) has really helped speed up our offense and that was an important trait that we needed, because a lot of teams were able to slow us down because our offense was slower, they had more time to set up their defense against us,” he said. “So by running a faster, quicker offense, we’re seeing some success.

“Now it’s only been put into practice against an opponent one time. So there’s still a lot to learn about it, but Tech was picked to win the GLIAC. So to have the success we did with the people we did was really, really encouraging.

“And we were also doing it with freshmen. We had two freshmen in the middle, which I guarantee you we’ll have two freshmen playing in the middle. We have three freshmen that play the position, two of which will play every match. And then at least one freshman, maybe two freshmen on the outside. So we’re going to be young.

“At one point during the scrimmage, we had four freshmen and two sophomores on the court. So we’re going to go as they go, but I’m extremely encouraged that they have been so successful with the limited experience.”

Even though he’ll be playing a lot of underclassmen this season, Lozier thinks that it’ll benefit his team both this year and in the future.

“Like I said, if you say something the right way, you can make anything a positive,” he said. “Having this season be in the spring is super beneficial because typically, they show up, get two weeks of preseason and then we start playing. They were going to play regardless of whether we played in the fall or the spring.

“So the fact that we got the fall and then the start of the winter to prepare, I think it puts them in a much better position to succeed. That being said, with any change you make on your team in terms of your defensive strategy or offensive strategy, there’s going to be growing pains. So we’re going to experience those where Lauren (Van Remortel), our setter, is going to set something that our hitters are not prepared for and that’s just going to take time.

“So the match we play this weekend against Ferris, that team is going to be significantly different than the team that plays Tech the last weekend (of the regular season in early April) just because of repetition. We’re going to have more reps together and we’re going to connect better. But in terms of their inexperience, I think it’s going to be severely diminished because of how much training we got.”

The Wildcats play at 2 p.m. today and Saturday against Ferris before returning home to face Saginaw Valley State on Feb. 26-27.

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

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