Huskies close Keweenaw Classic with loss to Golden Bears

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David Archambeau/For the Gazette
Michigan Tech setter Laura De Marchi (11) looks to pass the ball during a match against St. Cloud State Friday at the SDC Gym in Houghton. Teammate Jillian Kuizenga (right) watches for the pass.

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HOUGHTON — After sweeping the No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on Thursday to open both their season and the Keweenaw Classic at the SDC Gym, the Michigan Tech Huskies volleyball team seemed like it was in the driver’s seat heading into the remainder of their season-opening tournament at home.

That was before a pair of five-set losses Friday to the Minnesota State Mavericks and to No. 16 St. Cloud State Huskies changed the narrative of the Huskies’ early season. They also lost fifth-year setter Laura De Marchi to injury against St. Cloud.

Things went even worse on Saturday in a three-set loss to the No. 2 Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears, 25-17, 25-20, 25-23.

Huskies coach Matt Jennings was at a loss for words to describe his team’s performance against the Golden Bears.

“It’s disappointing, you know?,” he said. “Look, Concordia is one of the best teams in the country every year. Has been for some time. We knew we’d have our hands full. That wasn’t our best performance.

“I know we were short handed some there, but I think the team rallied around Lina (Espejo-Ramirez), for the most part. Saw some good things there, but disappointing nonetheless. We have our work cut out for us.”

The Golden Bears opened with the first point of the match, but thanks to kills from fifth-year outside hitter Anna Jonynas, sophomore outside hitter Jillian Kuizenga, and Espejo-Ramirez, the Huskies were within striking distance in the opening set at 5-5. Shortly after, fifth-year outside hitter Olivia Ghormley was blocked twice for points for the Golden Bears, who took a four-point lead and never looked back.

Ghormley, who came into the night with 45 kills on the season, gathered only two kills and a -.111 hitting percentage on the night. Jennings felt that fatigue was a factor in her struggles at the net.

“Liv is one of the best people I’ve ever gotten to coach, period,” Jennings said. “She gives it her all, every single time she goes out there, her whole heart. So she just wasn’t feeling it. I know she’s pretty fatigued at times, but she just didn’t have it. I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t do anything different. I trust Liv with the ball every single time.”

The second started well for the Huskies as Jonynas got them on the board with a service ace on the opening serve. Senior middle blocker Janie Grindland, sophomore middle blocker Kaycee Meiners and Ghormley all had kills in quick succession, evening things at 5-5. The set remained tight until a change in call on a ball that fell just short of the back line evened the set again at 9-9.

From that point forward, the Golden Bears seemed to gain control, moving out ahead 15-10 before the Huskies screamed back to even things at 19-19 on a service ace from senior defensive specialist Grace Novotny.

The Golden Bears scored six of the next seven points to earn the win.

In the third set, the Huskies fell behind 4-2 before sophomore outside hitter Lindy Oujiri was substituted into the contest. She scored five kills and hit .455 for the remainder of the set as a bright spot for the hosts.

Her efforts were not missed by Jennings.

“She’s got a lot of potential going forward for her in her career,” said Jennings. “We need to get her some reps and in some of our older players a little bit of rest this week where we can find it.

“We thought we’d make that switch. It gives a little bit of spark.”

Jonynas led the way for the Huskies with 13 kills. She was the only Huskies hitter in double figures.

ST. CLOUD STATE

Looking to bounce back from the five-set loss they suffered earlier in the day to the Mavericks, Michigan Tech looked to build some momentum against St. Cloud, however, it was hard to come by given the way that both teams fought hard in a very warm SDC Gym as the hosts fell, 25-21, 23-25, 25-18, 18-25, 13-15.

With a crowd just shy of 700 on hand, temperatures in the Gym were high, leading to several stops and starts throughout the match as both teams found themselves wiping the floor after nearly every significant volley.

St. Cloud jumped out to 1-0 leads in each of the first four sets, but struggled to maintain momentum. Michigan Tech battled back from a 5-0 deficit in the first set, thanks in large part to De Marchi, who racked up 10 assists and three blocks in the opening set alone as the hosts took the opening set.

De Marchi continued to put her stamp on the match in the second set. Her strong play helped jumpstart Jonynas, who had four of her match-high 18 kills in the second set. However, unforced errors started creeping into the hosts’ game, and found themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard.

In the third set, De Marchi again got Michigan Tech going with a big block early. She came up with another to put the hosts up 16-14 as part of a stretch where teammates Grindland and Meiners picked up kills. De Marchi finished the set having pushed her assist total to 42 along with a service ace, 10 digs and five blocks.

With the set tied at 12-12 in the fourth, disaster struck Michigan Tech on a lengthy volley. After junior libero Carissa Beyer dug out a St. Cloud hit over the scoring table, Michigan Tech got the ball over the net. After St. Cloud returned the ball, Michigan Tech got it over again, only to lead to a St. Cloud spike. On the play, the spike hit De Marchi in the face, dropping her to the floor as St. Cloud picked up the point.

“Anytime the player like Laura gets one off the head like that, it’s gonna take some time to regroup,” Jennings said.

“I was happy that we put ourselves in a position to win here today. That one may have been a turning point, but still yet we’ve put ourselves in position to win. It was the little points that caught up to us again here.”

From there, Michigan Tech struggled to regain their comfort zone, dropping each of the final two sets.

For the second straight match, the Huskies had more kills than their opponent, but dropped the match.

Kuizenga had a strong night for Michigan Tech with a season-high 17 kills.

MINNESOTA STATE

In the opening match for the Huskies on Friday, things started well as the Huskies jumped out with a 25-18 set win. However, the Mavericks responded with a 25-12 win in the second and a 25-17 win in the third. The Huskies evened things in the fourth with a 27-25 win, but ultimately fell in the fifth set, 15-8.

Kuizenga and Ghormley led the way for the Huskies with 15 kills each. Jonynas tacked on 12 kills and two service aces.

Meiners had 10 kills as did Grindland, but the Huskies struggled with the Mavericks’ block after the opening set, as the visitors racked up two solo blocks and 26 block assists, which dwarfed the Huskies’ totals of two solo blocks and six block assists.

UP NEXT

With the three losses, the Huskies dropped to 1-3 to start the season. They have precious little time to reset before facing another weekend full of volleyball as they take part in the Illinois-Springfield Invitational. They will face McKendree and NW Missouri State on Friday and Lake Erie and host Illinois-Springfield Saturday.

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