Pull out the brooms: Jacqueline Smith’s 19 kills lead Northern Michigan University Wildcats to volleyball sweep of Michigan Tech

Northern Michigan University's Meghan Meyer, No. 22 at left, gets a hit on the ball after a diving play by teammate Lauren Van Remortel, on the floor at left, as the Wildcats' Lizzy Stark watches during a GLIAC volleyball match played against Michigan Tech at Vandament Arena in Marquette on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

MARQUETTE — Even before the match started, it was an exciting night for many reasons for the Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech volleyball teams at NMU’s Vandament Arena on Tuesday evening.

The big Upper Peninsula rivalry was a night to remember for the Wildcats as Jacqueline Smith made 19 kills in front of a boisterous crowd when Northern swept the Huskies in three sets, 25-18, 27-25, 25-14.

NMU (11-2, 4-1 GLIAC) continued its hot start to this season, successfully bouncing back from a 3-0 home loss to GLIAC league leader Ferris State on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the ‘Cats controlled the first and third sets while making a big comeback in the second set to take that one, too. The environment in Vandament created a tough place for the Huskies to play, and it was a frenzy of Wildcat fans that helped the home team come out ahead.

“During a timeout, I was just panning around the gym and I mean, how fun is this?” NMU coach Mike Lozier said. “Winning helps, and this is going to go down as my favorite match at Vandament, honestly. Even more so than when we won the regular season, because of the crowd.”

Northern Michigan University outside hitter Rayne Thompson follows through on her spike that just clears the net, at top right, with Wildcats' teammates watching, from left, Madeline Crowley, Alli Yacko and Jacqueline Smith, in a GLIAC volleyball match played against Michigan Tech at Vandament Arena in Marquette on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

That regular season win he referred to was in the spring of 2021 and without any spectators in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Like the season has been so far, the ‘Cats started the first set strong, taking a 6-0 lead behind the serving of Meghan Meyer. MTU cut the deficit to 6-3 with two kills from Jillian Kuizenga.

NMU answered when Smith recorded a kill and served the next two points to put the home back ahead 10-3. The Huskies called timeout, coming back within three points in the middle of the set. NMU rallied again, taking a 16-9 edge after kills by Meyer and Lizzy Stark.

Another run by Tech cut the Wildcats’ lead to 19-16, but NMU ended the set with a 6-2 run, capped off by an ace from Alli Yacko and a kill from Smith.

The tide turned in the second set as the Huskies controlled the majority of it. Northern couldn’t get out of its own way with miscues, and Tech scored on offense with kills by Meg Raabe and Lina Espejo-Ramirez. Kuizenga recorded another kill, and the Huskies rode the service game of Janie Grindland to an 11-4 advantage.

Northern Michigan University outside hitter Jacqueline Smith, left center, leaps on this kill attempt with Wildcats' teammates looking on, from left, Alli Yacko, Rayne Thompson, Lizzy Stark and Meghan Meyer, during a GLIAC volleyball match played against Michigan Tech at Vandament Arena in Marquette on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

Slowly but surely, the Wildcats willed themselves back into the set. MTU had a few unforced errors of their own before kills by Smith and Lauren van Remortel cut the MTU lead to 13-10. A kill by Kuizenga gave Tech a 14-10 lead, but the ‘Cats answered with three straight kills from Meyer, Van Remortel and Smith to whittle down the Tech lead to one point.

The rest of the set was back and forth featuring several incredible volleys. Any time NMU was able to cut the deficit to one, Tech would score the next point. Then trailing 22-19, the ‘Cats were finally able to square up the score with kills from Smith and Meyer, followed by an ace by Madeline Crowley to make it 22-22. Smith finished the set strong with three more kills, and ended the set with her serving for a thrilling 27-25 victory.

“It’s really hard to teach perseverance and confidence,” Lozier said. “Those types of moments are moments that you get to learn about yourselves, and you either crumble or rise to the occasion. We knew that we were capable of greatness, but we just had to wait to find the time to take advantage. It wasn’t an all-at-once thing, it was slowly chipping away.”

After the traditional break that follows the second set of a match, NMU came out of the locker room and totally dismantled the visitors to end the match in the third set.

Like the opening set, the ‘Cats roared to a great start, this time 8-1. Stark connected on a kill a bit later to increase the lead to 12-2, and Tech’s chances were bleak. The third set went as well as you would have drawn it up, according to Lozier, as the ‘Cats didn’t take their foot off of the gas pedal and ramped up the intensity. The match ended fittingly with Smith’s 19th kill of the night.

“It’s kind of like that ‘cheat code’ of creating a player in a video game,” Lozier said. “She can do anything from anywhere, and we don’t want to rely on her all the time, but it’s just nice to know in those big moments that’s who you go to.”

Smith also had 12 digs for the Wildcats, while Yacko led the team with 15, Caylie Barlage added 11 and Crowley 10.

Stark was the other Wildcat with double-digit kills with 10, while Van Remortel finished with 34 assists.

The Huskies were led by Kuizenga’s 12 kills as Grindland finished with 10 digs. Espejo-Ramirez had 22 assists for MTU.

The Wildcats don’t have long to celebrate this one, hitting the road this weekend to face GLIAC foes Wisconsin-Parkside and Purdue Northwest in consecutive days. NMU travels to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to play at 7 p.m. EDT Friday against the Rangers before heading further south to Hammond, Indiana, at 2 p.m. EDT Saturday against the Pride.

Travis Nelson can be reached by email at tnelson@miningjournal.net.


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