After splitting its last two games on the road, the NMU volleyball team (16-9, 9-4 GLIAC) currently sits tied with SVSU for third place in the GLIAC North.
The next chance for the Wildcats to improve their record is when they step on the court Friday versus rival Michigan Tech (16-8, 10-3 GLIAC), who is second place in the division.
Senior captain Breanne Zaremba said, the match against Tech has always been one the team loves to play, and loves to win.
“It gets bigger throughout every year,” she said. “When you’re a freshman you hear it’s a big rival and then junior and senior years you just take it to heart because those are the last couple of years and the last couple of times you’re going to get to play (Michigan Tech).”
This season’s rivalry will be for more than just Upper Peninsula bragging rights for the two volleyball squads. A win for NMU could result in a three-way tie for second place in the GLIAC North between Tech, NMU and SVSU.
NMU is trying to rebound from a 3-1 loss to SVSU and assistant coach Kristin Slamer said the heated match couldn’t come at a better time.
“We had a lot of high expectations going into that match, and we just didn’t finish,” she said. “One of Saginaw Valley’s goals was to beat us twice. But hopefully, if we play our cards right, we can see them again in the first round of the GLIAC tournament and have a little payback for that.”
But, with the conference tournament two weeks away, the ‘Cats are setting their sights on the tasks at hand.
“There are a lot of things that have to play out, as far as who has to beat whom. But we have to do our job as far as beating Michigan Tech, beating Ferris State and Grand Valley,” Slamer said. “We’re not focused so much on our rankings right now, as much as getting into the conference tournament.”
In order to beat Tech on Friday and help NMU’s conference strides, Slamer said they’re going to have to battle in a long defensive match.
To lead the ‘Cats’ defense, NMU looks to junior libero Cassie Osiecki, who leads the team in digs, and is number four in the GLIAC North with a total of 389 digs, a 3.93 average.
“Volleyball is a game of mistakes and whoever makes the least mistakes wins. Tech is a good blocking team and they’re going to come out ready to cover,” Osiecki said. “So it’s going to be a hard fought battle.”
Last year, NMU split the series with Tech, with each team winning on its home court.
This season NMU went to Houghton on Sept. 16 and took a 3-1 victory against the Huskies
“It’s a big rivalry and they’re ready to beat us, since we beat them,” coach Slamer said.
“Wherever you play, both sides of the ball play really hard with lots of emotion, and lots of intensity. It’s an awesome game to watch.”
Adding some heat to the rivalry is head coach Dominic Yoder’s history with MTU. In 2004 and 2005 Yoder was an assistant to current Tech head coach Krista Mikesch.
“I think Dominic maybe had to know what they do in certain scenarios, but the team changes so much and it’s hard to know with different players, and what they’re going to do,” Slamer said. “I don’t think the girls play into it as much, but it kind of adds a little fuel to the fire.”
To prepare for this battle, NMU is trying to have game-like situations at practice, according to Zaremba.
“We just practice how we play. If we bring that energy on the court, that is going to bring Tech down,” she said. “But a lot of it comes with passion and heart when it comes down to it. When you have two good teams the team that puts their whole heart on the court, is going to come out with the victory.”
The match against Tech will start Friday at 6 p.m. NMU will also face Urbana University for its senior day on Saturday at 5 p.m. Both games will be in the Vandament Arena.