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Proving who’s best: GLIAC Freshman of the Year Jacqueline Smith named MVP as Northern Michigan University wins conference volleyball tournament

Northern Michigan University’s Jacqueline Smith sets the ball in a match against Grand Valley State on Saturday at Saginaw Valley State’s gym in University Center. Watching the play intently at left is Wildcats’ libero Alli Yacko. (Photo courtesy GLIAC website)

UNIVERSITY CENTER — Freshman tournament MVP Jacqueline Smith led Northern Michigan University to the GLIAC Volleyball Tournament championship on Sunday afternoon, beating Upper Peninsula rival Michigan Tech in three straight sets to put an emphatic stamp on who was the best team in this league.

There was a bit of dispute about whether the Wildcats, who had the league’s best win-loss record, or the Huskies, who gained the No. 1 seed for this tourney, or even Grand Valley State, which won the GLIAC South Division, would be called league champions.

But NMU, ranked No. 20 in last week’s NCAA Division II American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, defeated both of these closest rivals in the tournament.

Unfortunately, the Wildcats won’t be able to advance any further as the NCAA canceled its Division II tournament months ago due to coronavirus concerns. As it was, the GLIAC was one of many leagues to push back its fall season to the late winter and early spring this year.

In the GLIAC Tournament, Northern was one of the five top seeds to receive a bye in Friday morning’s opening round. That evening, the Wildcats opened with a four-set victory over Davenport in the quarterfinals, advancing them to Saturday’s semifinals.

NMU took out Grand Valley in four sets to get to the championship match on Sunday.

Not only was Smith named MVP of the event, but sophomore teammate and setter Lauren Van Remortel made the all-tournament team, joining Anna Jonyras and Laura De Marchi of MTU, Ali Thompson of GVSU and Katie O’Connell of Ferris State.

In the consolation bracket, which included the six teams that lost either Friday morning or evening, Davenport came out on top with a four-set victory over Wisconsin-Parkside.

Here is a rundown on the matches in reverse order, starting with the championship:

———————-

NMU 3, Michigan Tech 0

On Sunday, the Wildcats won 25-23, 25-16, 26-24.

“Credit and congratulations to Northern for playing a great match today and for putting together a great season,” Tech coach Matt Jennings said in an MTU Sports Information news release. “Simply put, they played better than us in every part of the game.

“We certainly picked a bad time to play tense and make uncharacteristic mistakes. Northern just ran their system better than we ran ours and executed way more consistently, which was compounded by the number of points we gave them unearned.”

A report wasn’t available by Journal press time from NMU Sports Information.

The opening set featured numerous ties as Tech took a 23-22 lead on the sixth kill of the set by Jonynas before a kill by Smith retied it for the ninth and final time at 23-23. Then attack errors by Jonynas and teammate Jillian Kuizenga handed the set to Northern.

Despite the close score, NMU took control earlier in the set with a 8-1 run that put the Wildcats on top 12-7. In that streak, Northern’s Hailey Wickstrom made four kills.

But Tech rebounded with its own four-point run to get back within 12-11 and keep it close the rest of the way.

In Set 2, Northern controlled play throughout, hitting at a .387 clip. Following a 5-5 tie, NMU went on an 11-3 run to go ahead 16-8. Smith, Lizzy Stark and Ania Hyatt each had two kills during that run.

The final set was close throughout, but especially down the stretch. Tech led early until a Stark kill made it 5-5, then retook the lead for much of the rest of set at 9-8 on another Stark kill.

The Huskies hung close until tying it 19-19 on the second of back-to-back kills by Lindy Oujiri, with ties also at 20-20, 21-21, 22-22, 23-23 and 24-24.

A Smith kill created that final tie at 24-24 before a Stark kill and Tech error ended the match.

Northern’s offense was led by Smith with 13 kills as Wickstrom added 12 and Stark 11. Wickstrom had a hitting percentage of .409.

Teammate Alli Yacko made 15 digs and Stark 10, while Van Remortel had 36 assists and Madeline

Crowley and Lauren Caprini each had two aces. NMU’s Meghan Meyer had five blocks and Wickstrom four.

———————-

NMU 3, Grand Valley 1

On Saturday, Northern clinched its berth in the GLIAC finals with a 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 25-23 victory.

NMU jumped out to a 5-1 lead on the second of back-to-back services aces by Smith, but while keeping the lead throughout, never got a lead bigger than that until a Grand Valley attack error clinched it at 25-20.

Grand Valley got the quick lead in Set 2, though the Wildcats came back as the teams were tied 10 times, the final time at 18-18 just before Northern went on a 5-1 run that included four kills by Stark.

While the Wildcats scored the first two points of Set 3, the Lakers quickly took command with leads of 7-3 and 18-11. Northern got within five at 19-14 and 20-15 on GV errors, but the set ended with a Stark kill and then a Stark attack error.

The Lakers looked to tie the match in the fourth set, taking the lead at 10-9 on a Meyer attack error and keeping it until a Meyer kill and GV attack error tied it 23-23.

Smith led the Wildcats with 21 kills and .314 hitting percentage, while Stark had 20 kills. Smith also had her team’s only three aces, while Van Remortel and Yacko each made 19 digs as Smith had 11. Hyatt led her team in blocks with two.

———————-

NMU 3, Davenport 1

On Friday, the Wildcats prevailed 25-14, 19-25, 25-16, 25-15.

In the first set after several ties, Northern took control with a 6-0 run highlighted by Smith and Wickstrom alternating kills during the first five of those points.

The Wildcats then broke it open with another 6-0 run that made it 18-9 that included two more kills by Wickstrom. Another Smith kill ended the set.

Davenport started with a rush in the second set, going up 8-1 and 24-13 before Northern staved off set point six times on kills by Stark and Hyatt and four Panther errors. In the end, though, Davenport evened the match.

The Panthers again started strong in the third set, going up 5-1, before NMU found its way to actually take a 9-6 lead on a run that included three kills by Stark and two by Wickstrom.

With only one intervening point by Davenport, the Wildcats reeled off another 5-0 run to go ahead 14-7 as Hyatt had back-to-back-to-back kills to begin the streak.

Wickstrom and Stark ended the match with kills.

NMU again had a three-headed offense as Stark had 18 kills, Wickstrom 16 and Smith 15. Hyatt added nine kills but most impressively had a sterling .818 hitting percentage.

Yacko led the Wildcats with 26 digs as Van Remortel had 15, Caprini had two aces, Wickstrom and Smith each had three blocks, and Van Remortel made 55 assists.

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

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