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Clawing to the top of the conference: Northern Michigan University volleyball team prepares for GLIAC Tournament

Northern Michigan University’s Lizzy Stark, left at top, attempts a kill with her team surrounding her during the first set against Michigan Tech on Saturday at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“Any other program that wants to … should call themselves conference champions as well. But we’re hanging a banner and it’s going to say that we won this year.” — Mike Lozier, NMU head volleyball coach,

on the GLIAC’s complicated system of determining its champion

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MARQUETTE — For the first time in 18 years, the Northern Michigan University volleyball team is sitting on top of the GLIAC as the No. 20 Wildcats knocked off preseason favorite Michigan Tech in a five-set thriller Saturday afternoon.

It came a day after the Huskies made their bid for the top spot in the league by beating NMU in four sets in Houghton.

In a Zoom interview Monday, NMU head coach Mike Lozier said the best part for him was his team showing how they can rebound from a disappointing defeat.

Northern Michigan University volleyball players Alyssa Milski and Abigail Durecki prepare to send the ball back over the net during their match against Michigan Tech on Nov. 2, 2019. (Journal file photo)

“I’m just really proud of the team’s ability to turn it around after Friday,” he said. “I was talking to some people after Friday’s match and we got embarrassed. I talked previously about what we did to Northwood, where they came in feeling good into our gym and we just kind of wiped the floor with them. And Tech did the same thing to us on Friday.

“The one thing that our team has shown time and again is our resiliency, our ability to face adversity and then overcome it, and Friday was just another form of adversity. Saturday we were ready to go. You could see it from the moment they walked in the gym for walk-through on Saturday that they were determined to not let what happened on Friday happen again.

“And so, just really proud of the resiliency they showed. Ania Hyatt, who I had taken out of the game on Friday because of her performance, went in on Saturday and had six kills on eight attempts, which is incredible.

“Hailey Wickstrom, her senior day, an opportunity to perform in front of her family and loved ones and she went out there and killed it. And then just a team effort, start to finish, so I’m just really proud of them.”

The Huskies won the fourth set easily on Saturday to force a deciding fifth set and when asked if he said anything in particular before the final set, Lozier said he just asked a simple question.

“I think I said ‘Where else would you rather be than in our gym in a fifth set for a chance to win the championship?'” he said. “That’s all that you need to know going into it is a game to 15 (points), which is what we do in practice every day. We play games to 15 to prepare for a moment like that and we obviously showed we were ready.

“I didn’t talk about it, but I think the team that got to five (points) each set ended up winning. So it was really crucial that we came out ready to go and won that race to five, which we did.”

Technically, the Wildcats (12-2) are co-champs in the GLIAC with the rival Huskies despite having a better record and a higher total in the league’s points rating system. That might irk some coaches, but Lozier shrugged it off.

“We’re calling ourselves conference champions,” he said. “Anyone else that has been told by the GLIAC that they’re able to call themselves conference champions has every right to do that. I’m not interested in getting into the back-and-forth about who’s what, where’s the word ‘co’ going to get thrown in? A lot of teams did a lot of good things this year and the GLIAC decided that teams get to call themselves champions and we were one of those teams.

“We had the most wins in the conference, we had the highest winning percentage in the conference, we had the fewest losses in the conference and that’s what we’re focusing on, on what’s happening inside our program. Anywhere else, any other program that wants to do, and is totally within their right to do so, they should call themselves conference champions as well.

“But we’re hanging a banner and it’s going to say that we won this year.”

Northern now heads on the road to Saginaw Valley State’s campus for the GLIAC Tournament, where it is the No. 2 seed and gets a first-round bye. Tech ended up getting the top seed, which also might be annoying, but again, Lozier says it’s not a big deal.

“If you go to the GLIAC website, we knew this from the beginning that they weren’t going to use overall record as the determining factor for the conference tournament,” he said. “They were going to use a points system, which is what basketball did, and Tech had to cancel two of their games because of COVID(-19) issues. And so they played two less matches than us and you get points for a variety of reasons.

“You get points for playing on the road, you obviously get points for winning, you get points based on the opponent’s win percentage. And going into Saturday, there was a lot of moving parts. One of them being Grand Valley (State)’s match against Purdue Northwest because if they had won that, that changed their winning percentage from below .750 to above .750 and that gave Tech more points because they beat Grand Valley and their win percentage was above .750.

“So complicated, but honestly, I don’t care what our seed is. We won a conference championship, we get a bye in the first round and it doesn’t matter where your seed is, you’ve just got to show up and win and that’s where our focus is.”

At 7 p.m. Friday, the Wildcats will face the winner of an early Friday match between No. 7 seed Davenport and No. 10 seed Lake Superior State. Lozier says his team is currently preparing to face the Panthers, who they swept on the road, but said things could change.

“We play the winner of Davenport and Lake State,” he said. “And you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but Lake State hasn’t won a match yet this year. So we are going to heavily prepare as if our next opponent is Davenport, and if Lake State finds a way to win, we’ll have done a little bit of prep work for that, but our focus is going to be on Davenport just because we just played them, I know how good they are and I have every expectation that they’re going to win that play-in game and we’re going to be playing them on Friday.”

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

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