HAMMOND, Ind. – After posting two wins over the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals and Wayne State Warriors, the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team is both excited and confident heading into the Midwest Regional Crossover. The Huskies improved to 12-6 this season and 6-5 in GLIAC play with the two wins, but, more importantly, they climbed the conference standings to tie for fifth with the Warriors.
Head coach Matt Jennings thinks his team could be moving on considering they head into the mid-season tournament having won six of their last eight games.
“I am very encouraged” he said. “We put ourselves in exactly the position we needed, given where we were. We’ve kind of freed ourselves from overthinking some of those early losses, because there’s nothing you can do about it.
The sudden onset of team confidence that made the Huskies look more like the nationally ranked team before the season is directly linked, according to Jennings, to Meg Raabe’s first-year three-hitter outside hitter play, Makena Wesol and Brooke Dzwik. .
Raabe jumped off the gates to start the season, culminating with 12 kills in a game against Minnesota-Crookston on Sept. 3. However, until last weekend, she hadn’t gotten more than six kills more than once in nine straight matches.
As her attack dried up, Raabe slowly found other ways to contribute, mostly through her defense, as Jennings and her team worked to turn her into a six-rotation player.
“She’s getting more and more confident, especially in her attack, and her serve reception,” he said. “Her defense also continues to improve. Meg is a very smart, very capable and hard-working young person. She will continue to improve as the season progresses and as she matures as a player.
As Raabe struggled to score, Wesol stepped in and helped turn the Huskies’ season around with a 13-kill performance at Wisconsin-Parkside after seeing no action in three straight games.
Wesol had to learn to adapt on the fly as teams learned more about her, but Jennings feels she has yet to find her ceiling.
Dzwik wasn’t able to step up offensively as much as her classmates, but she quickly became an invaluable defender and passer. On Friday night, she racked up 18 digs in the Huskies’ 3-1 victory over the Cardinals, which was the third time this season she had hit double digits.
“Her backrow game has been impressive, I think, since she got here,” said Jennings. “Her defensive skills are very useful in our system at the moment. Her passing continues to improve enough for her to be a main setter for us.
As freshmen have begun to find their way, senior right-side hitter Jillian Kuizenga continues to find ways to lead her young teammates on and off the court.
“It’s so much fun,” she said after the win over the Warriors on Saturday. “They really step up in big ways. When it comes to lecturing, not many freshmen can do it. They try their luck, (and) sprint with it. You feel a little proud looking at them.
Kuizenga led the Huskies in kills over the weekend with 29, 16 against the Cardinals and another 13 against the Warriors. One of the reasons she was so effective last weekend was that she managed to get a few kills on the left side of the field. She credited Raabe’s growth as part of the reason she could take the chance.
This weekend, the Huskies are in Hammond, Indiana to participate in the crossover tournament. The largest tournament in the region, the crossover features teams from four different conferences in one location at the same time.
The Huskies will open the crossover with a former GLIAC opponent, the Ashland Eagles, who run the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. The Eagles are 16-5 overall and 11-0 in conference. They enter the tournament on a 13-game winning streak.
The Eagles’ iconic win this season was a 3-0 loss to the then No.1. 15 Winona State.
Fifth-year outside hitter Erin Krupar is the Eagles’ most dangerous forward. She has 226 kills and an average of 3.92 kills per set.
The Huskies’ second opponent will be the Indianapolis Greyhounds. The Greyhounds enter the weekend 11-7 on the season and 4-3 in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. They have two key wins under their belt with a 3-0 win over Minnesota State and a 3-0 victory over the former number one. 25 Quincy.
Senior outside forward Grace Hegwood is the Greyhounds’ most dangerous forward. She has a team record 168 kills and an average of 2.99 kills per set. Junior middle blocker Hannah Sabotin has also been a nightmare for opponents as she has 163 kills, averaging 3.22 kills per set.
Jennings thinks the speed of the Greyhounds makes it difficult for opponents to face off.
“Indy is going to play a lot of really good defense and be fast in the system,” he said. “I know when they dig to target, they’re going to beat teams.”
The Huskies will find out who their third opponent will be after finishing their first two games on Friday.