MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University volleyball team has been getting a head start on the fall season by traveling all around the Lower Peninsula playing matches this spring.
Now the team returns home to Vandament Arena on Saturday afternoon as the host of a four-team, six-match spectacular that is open and free to the public.
The spring schedule wraps up with this mini-tournament featuring the Wildcats, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State and an NMU alumni team.
The alumni include Amy Anderson-Goldsworthy from the Class of 2009, Jillian Baclicki McNulty (’02), Katie (Twardzik) Bonacorsi (’10), Katt Garvick (’09), Sarah Hamilton (’13), Kellisha Harley (’13), Kalli Herron (’13), Mandie Meyer (’09), Suzy Solin (’13) and Cyndi Wiggins (1984).
The round-robin format has two courts going at once starting at noon when Northern takes on the alumni and LSSU and MTU square off.
The teams rotate so that the Wildcats face Tech at 1:30 p.m. with NMU squaring off against Lake State at 3 p.m., with the remaining two teams playing each other simultaneously.
Each match will be a best-of-three sets.
During their travels earlier this spring, the Wildcats picked up a few victories and head coach Dominic Yoder was pleased with what he has seen from his young squad.
“We’ve played at Michigan Tech, we’ve gone over to Grand Valley (State) and we just went down to Eastern Michigan (University) and played a collection of a couple of (NCAA) Division I teams and NAIA teams,” he said.
“The team is playing really well right now. We’ve got the kids up to speed, learning new skills and working on strategies, and they are able to apply them in competitive play.
“This last go-round we were able to take sets away from (Division I) Oakland (University) and Bowling Green (State). When you’re looking at the Mid-American Conference as well as Conference USA, they’re pretty good teams. Oakland went to the NCAA tournament last year, so for us to be able to win against them, I thought that was pretty awesome for our kids to be able to play at that level.”
In the tournament at EMU, Yoder said that his team played single sets against each team in bracket play. NMU split a pair of sets with BGSU while defeating Oakland, Concordia University-Ann Arbor and Madonna University, but lost to Eastern Michigan.
While earning wins over Division I teams is impressive, Yoder says the gap between the Wildcats and some D-I opponents isn’t as large as people might think.
“I don’t think there’s much difference between our level of play and Division I play,” he said. “They have a collection of four or five really good players and we might have two or three. That’s really the difference in the play. I think that the level of play our top athletes are playing at is very similar to the mid-major Division I level.”
When asked if anybody on the his team has particularly stood out so far this spring, Yoder mentioned a few, but emphasized that the whole team had stepped up.
“It’s been more of a team effort,” Yoder said. “There is a collection of athletes that are playing at a high level, like Madison Whitehead, Kayla Chosa, Anna Aycock, Lisa Studnicka, Alex Berger and Jami Hogeboom. Those are all our top-level players that are playing very well right now.
“There’s not one particular superstar though. It’s more of a collection of team.”
With the recent release of the Wildcats’ fall schedule, Yoder said he is looking forward to several rematches from last year in the season-opening Wildcat Open, also to be played at Vandament Arena.
“We’re pretty excited to be home that opening weekend,” Yoder said. “It really allows our athletes to get into a groove without the travel effect. I think it’s a good thing, especially for a young team that’s mostly sophomores and juniors, to be able to play in front of their fans at home.
“Cedarville beat us in four (sets) last year, so we’ll have a rematch with them at our place. Upper Iowa beat us in five at Michigan Tech last year, so we’re looking forward to playing them at home.
“It’s definitely looking to be a high-level tournament. It’s just going to be good competition for us to open up our season.”
Looking at the entire season, Yoder is positive that it will have a better outcome.
“We’re looking for a rebound from last year,” he said. “We were 14-4 in (the GLIAC) conference and 0-10 outside it. We were a young team and we really struggled at the beginning of the year. We lost quite a few matches in either five or four sets.
“I think we’re going to be better this year; we’re going to be stronger and be more competitive, especially in our nonconference schedule. We’re developing and growing and that’s all you can ask for.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.