MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University volleyball team will get a crack at avenging one of its tightest losses this season when it travels to South Division champion Ashland for a GLIAC quarterfinal match at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
The No. 5-seeded Wildcats (20-11 overall, 12-6 in GLIAC) lost to the No. 4 Eagles (22-7, 12-6) earlier in the year in Ohio in five sets - 25-16, 20-25, 20-25, 29-27, 15-10.
Northern went into the fourth set up 2-1 in the match, but failed to convert on three match points.
Northern Michigan University junior Kalli Herron delivers a kill against Saginaw Valley State on Friday at Vandament Arena in Marquette. The Wildcats defeated the Cardinals on Friday and Lake Superior State on Saturday to earn a No. 5 seed in the 2012 GLIAC Tournament. NMU plays at Ashland at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the quarterfinals. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"We had a couple players struggle offensively the last time we were there," NMU head coach Dominic Yoder said. "If they didn't struggle, the outcome would have been definitely different."
The Eagles' Brittany Snider racked up 29 kills on the Wildcats from the outside, but according to Yoder, she's not the only concern after Baley Bernthisel posted 15 kills and Kate Eckels totaled 13 kills.
"We're really looking at No. 10 (Bernthisel) and No. 1 (Maureen Johnson) and No. 15 (Susie Jonas), their two middles and their right side are the players we really have to control," Yoder said. "Then with No. 12 (Eckels) and 5 (Snider), we really just have to slow them down."
Junior outside hitter Lina Lopes led the Wildcats with 18 kills and junior middle hitter Sarah Hamilton had 14 kills against Ashland. Since that Sept. 22 loss, however, the NMU offense has become more balanced.
Junior outside hitter Kalli Herron has posted double-digit kills in four of her last five matches and freshman outside hitter Lisa Studnicka is coming off a weekend that saw her total a career-high 19 kills against Saginaw Valley State.
"The improvement of Kalli overall and also Jasmine Calhoun being able to give us a couple kills per set really helps us out tremendously," Yoder said. "Sarah Hamilton is doing a great job for us the last four weeks and then when Lisa is hot and Lina is playing well, we're a really good offense that is hard to stop."
Hamilton leads the Wildcats in blocking with 88 total on the season, including 16 solos, while Herron has 79 total blocks with nine solos.
Calhoun had a career-weekend in blocking with 11 total against SVSU on Friday and 10 against Lake Superior State in the regular season finale on Saturday.
She leads the team with 19 solo blocks this season, and Yoder hopes to get the same type of output Wednesday in Ashland out of Calhoun, who transfered to NMU last season.
"I think the great thing about having (assistant coach Inga Kurgonaite) here is that we have some creative blocking ideas that come through," Yoder said. "We work on different concepts based on opponents and our players are able to execute."
The GLIAC semifinals at noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday and the championship at 2 p.m. on Sunday will be played at the site of the highest remaining seed after the quarterfinals.
Northwood enters the tourney as the No. 1 seed having won the regular season title.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.