HOUGHTON, Mich. – Michigan Tech closed out their regular season home schedule with a thrilling 3-1 victory (25-18, 21-25, 27-25, 25-17) over their bitter rival Northern Michigan inside a raucous SDC Gym Friday night. With the win, the Huskies improve to 21-4 overall and 13-1 in the GLIAC, and they clinch a home match in the 2018 GLIAC Tournament.
"When you go through the division twice, you're playing teams for a second time, it makes things a little bit harder," said head coach Matt Jennings after tonight's win. "We hit over .300 for the match and it was a good game, but Northern pushed us. We responded well to that and came out with the win."
The third set proved to be the difference-maker for Michigan Tech. The Huskies opened with a 3-0 lead before the Wildcats (15-10, 4-10 GLIAC) tied it up with three straight points. MTU maintained a narrow lead throughout the action until four unanswered points put Northern Michigan up 10-7. Michigan Tech continued to battle and scored five of the next six points to retake the lead before the Wildcats tied it up once again. Tech's lead grew to 18-15 on a pair of Wildcat errors and a joint block by Emilia Widen and Anna Jonynas, but the Wildcats shifted the momentum back in their favor with five of the next six points to go up 20-19. The teams traded points deep into the frame until Tech scored two straight with kills from Mariah Sherman and Jonynas, but NMU tied it up at 25-25. A service error put the Huskies on set-point, and they soon forced a Wildcat attack that went long and out of bounds for the 27-25 win in the frame, giving them a 2-1 advantage going into the fourth set. Although the Huskies were out-killed 21-15 in the set, they forced Northern Michigan into committing nine errors with only three errors committed themselves.
"Good teams win close sets," Jennings said of his team's performance in the third frame. "I believe in that, and when it's close and things are on the line, you've got to either play your best or at least play better than your opponent."
Tech pulled out in front early with five straight points to lead 8-3 going into an NMU timeout in the fourth set. The Wildcats hung with the Huskies, never letting their led grow by more than four kills and were only down 17-16 when Tech went off for six straight points to put the set well out of reach for the visitors. Sherman scored the final kill of the stanza, giving Michigan Tech their fourth straight win over the U.P. rivals. Tech played their best ball of the night in the set, hitting .394 with 16 kills and only three errors, while limiting Northern to .083 hitting percentage with nine kills and six errors.
The teams went back-and-forth at one another to open the first set until Michigan Tech pulled ahead 10-5 thanks to a three-point run with a Wildcat attacking error, a kill by Widen, and an ace by Jonynas. The Black and Gold continued to score on their rivals, building their lead to 15-7 at the midpoint of the action before the Wildcats closed the gap to three with four answered points. The Huskies closed out the frame with five out of the final six points, winning the match on a tandem block by Rachel Ping and Olivia Ghormley.
Tech and Northern looked evenly matched entering the second set, with neither team able to pull away from the other for long. Michigan Tech pulled ahead 12-8 midway through the frame thanks to a four-point run, but Northern countered with a five-point run to lead 13-12. The Huskies regained the lead following three unanswered points, but the Wildcats responded with five consecutive points to pull ahead 19-16 late. Tech brought themselves to within one late, but four consecutive points gave the visitors the set 25-20, tying the match going into the third set.
Sherman put on one of the best performances of her career in her final regular season home match, recording 22 kills on 40 attempts with only four errors for a hitting percentage of .450. She also recorded two digs, two block assists, and one assist. Sherman averaged 5.50 kills/set, with a match-high seven kills coming in the second set.
"I tried to be as aggressive as I could all game," says Sherman, who was honored before the match as part of the Senior Day celebration. "Our goal was to come out and finish strong, play to the crowd, and just have fun with it. We didn't want another close match; we wanted to just go out there and show how good of a team we are, and it was good that we were able to do so."
Ghormley had another solid performance on the court, posting 15 kills while contributing at the net with two block assists. Fresh off her GLIAC North Division Player of the Week honor, Widen had her second consecutive match with double-digit kills as she posted 11 on 16 attacks with no errors. Laura DeMarchi dished out 52 assists in the win, more than Northern Michigan's team total. Jonynas and Grace Novotny each recorded two of the team's five service aces.
Four Huskies finished with 10 or more digs on the night, with Megan Utlak pacing the team with 17. Joining her were Jonynas, DeMarchi, and Kristine Fink with 10 digs each. Ping put in another good performance at the net, recording three block assists on the Wildcats.
Michigan Tech bested Northern Michigan in many major statistical categories. They finished with more kills (59-54), less errors (15-21), a higher team hitting percentage (.308 - .226), more assists (57-51), and more digs (62-52), and they drew even on total blocks (5-5).
The Huskies will hit the road for their final two matches of the regular season. Michigan Tech will take on Ferris State (20-4, 13-0 GLIAC) on Friday (Nov. 2) and then head to Northwood (10-15, 4-9 GLIAC) on Saturday (Nov. 3). The Bulldogs, ranked third in the NCAA Midwest Regional rankings and 10th in the AVCA Division II poll, defeated the Huskies 3-1 back in mid-September, while the Huskies swept the Timberwolves in their last meeting.