Northern Michigan University Wildcats, Michigan Tech to decide GLIAC volleyball title this weekend

Northern Michigan University’s Lizzy Stark bumps the ball in a GLIAC volleyball match played against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28, 2019, at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University volleyball team is having its best season in a number of years.

And there’s no signs of it slowing down with the Wildcats’ win streak at 11 matches.

NMU, now 11-1 and ranked No. 19 in this week’s American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II poll, did get their first true test since the beginning of the season last weekend.

Davenport took Northern to a fifth set on Saturday, but NMU prevailed 15-13 in that set to keep its streak alive.

Head coach Mike Lozier was pleased during Monday’s Zoom interview.

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 match played against Saginaw Valley State on Sept. 28, 2019, at Vandament Arena in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I think this weekend was exactly what we needed,” he said. “We needed to face adversity, we needed to go up against a quality opponent who was prepared for us and have the tools to make us work hard.

“While I didn’t enjoy being involved in a five-set match, I enjoy winning in three and getting out of there. Ultimately, I think it helped our team’s growth having to fight through that adversity.

“I think the one thing that we learned about ourselves is we’ve got to learn how to finish matches. On Saturday, we had a very clear opportunity to end it in four and we didn’t.

“Having watched (Michigan) Tech play Grand Valley (State) this weekend, they’re very good at 20 (points) and beyond and so we cannot let our foot off the gas when we get to 20 first. I would characterize this as probably the weekend that we experienced the most growth outside of maybe the first weekend.

“So I’m excited. Eleven in a row is an insane feat to have accomplished, to be undefeated in the month of March is an incredible feat to accomplish and I’m not one to shy away from it. We talked about this last week. I will not shy away from telling the team the accomplishments and the accolades that they have received for their hard work.”

When asked what stands out to him the most about the Wildcats during this streak, Lozier says it’s how they come together each match.

“One of the things that I do after every match, which may be neurotic in this way, but I go back immediately and watch every match and I only watch the end of the point. Every point, I’ll watch and I’ll pause it at the end of the point and I watch how we react, whether we won or lost the point and I watch the opponent and how they reacted.

“We are without a doubt the best team in terms of how we respond in successes and failures than any team I’ve ever coached and any team in the GLIAC that I’ve seen so far. We are in it together, we play together, we believe in each other.

“The way they respond together is one of the things that I’m most proud of is they are a team, and that is why we’re winning. We’re winning because they believe in each other and they play for each other and they don’t play for any individual accolades. They do it because they want to win together.”

The regular season comes to a close this weekend with the GLIAC Tournament’s top seed on the line as the Wildcats face rival MTU (8-2) in a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday.

The Huskies, ranked No. 21 this week in the AVCA voting, trail Northern by just one game in the standings, so a Tech sweep would lift them over the ‘Cats for the tournament. Lozier said the Huskies are similar to his team, but it has more veterans.

“They’re significantly more seasoned,” he said. “Their best players are seniors, and unfortunately they’re taking their year back and they’re going to be back next year.

“But I expect exactly what I said. We were fortunate we were able to watch the entire Tech-Grand Valley match on Saturday on the bus ride back and they are just relentless. They’re very good in every aspect of the game and we have to be prepared for that.

“Everyone looks at their roster and says Olivia Ghormley is their best attacker. Well, if you try to shut down Olivia, they have three other players that are very good.

“And we’re similar in that way, right? Like people look at our roster and they say you have to stop Jacqueline Smith. Well, good luck, because Hailey Wickstrom had 20-some kills this weekend and hit .300 (attack percentage) and Meghan Meyer is leading the conference in hitting percentage, and Lizzy Stark is a returning all-conference player. So go ahead and stop Jackie and see how that works.

“I think they’re similar in that aspect where if you just try to stop one, they have enough tools in their chest that they’re going to beat you in other ways.

“So we’re just going to have to strategize and be sneaky in our defensive schemes and our offensive schemes to try to exploit whatever weaknesses they might expose.

“But I think the coolest thing is that it is a guarantee that the GLIAC championship is going to be in the (Upper Peninsula). Either we’re going to win one of these two or both or if Tech wins both, they’re going to win the GLIAC.

“And as much as people want to say they don’t like Tech or whatever (with) this rivalry, the way (head coach) Matt (Jennings) has created this program and the culture they have, I would be an idiot if I wasn’t respectful of what they’ve accomplished.

“So I’m just really happy that the GLIAC championship is going to be decided in the U.P. and that’s what I’ve always wanted.”

First serves are at 6 p.m. Friday in Houghton and 4 p.m. Saturday in Marquette. Both matches will be televised on Fox-U.P.

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


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