Volleyball team opens with No. 3 Minnesota Duluth

Ray Bressette

After reaching the GLIAC tournament semifinals a year ago, the Wildcat volleyball team returns this week to kick off their 2014 season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 against the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at Vandament Arena.

The ’Cats will open their season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 against the nation’s No. 3-ranked Minnesota Duluth. NMU will then travel to Houghton this weekend to take part in the three-game Keweenaw Classic. (NW File Photo)
The ’Cats will open their season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 against the nation’s No. 3-ranked Minnesota Duluth. NMU will then travel to Houghton this weekend to take part in the three-game Keweenaw Classic. (NW File Photo)

Head coach Dominic Yoder said Duluth will be a challenging team to open up against.

“They’re walking in here as a top-three team in the nation,” Yoder said. “They’re going to be a good team. They’ve lost some big attackers from last year, but overall they’re a big team returning most players from last season. Duluth always has a great program in terms of developing their players, and this year is no different. It’s going to be a good, fast paced match for our team to start the year.”

Last season, the Bulldogs compiled a 33-3 record, and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II women’s volleyball tournament.

Freshman left side Madison Whitehead said Duluth’s success equates from their speed.

“They definitely play at a faster, higher level than we’re used to seeing,” Whitehead said. “We’ve played against each other and other teams to try and prepare, but their speed is something that’s hard to match. It’s going to be great experience for us to go up against.”

After their home opener against Minnesota Duluth, the Wildcats will travel to Houghton this weekend where they will participate in the three game Keweenaw Classic in the SDC gym on the campus of Michigan Tech.

NMU will take on Upper Iowa University at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5.

The tournament will continue the following day when they square off against Bemidji State at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6.

The ’Cats will wrap up their play later that day against Winona State at 5 p.m.

Junior setter Stacy Kalsbeek said the tournament will get the team familiar with each other before starting GLIAC play in a few weeks.

“The tournament’s going to make us all more comfortable playing together,” Kalsbeek said. “It’ll prepare us for what we have coming up later in the year. There’s some quality teams in this tournament, and we’ll have a lot of good teams on our schedule later on.

“Playing these teams now will get us ready for when it counts toward our conference record.”

The ’Cats are coming off a 2013 season where they finished 15-3 in the GLIAC, 23-10 overall The Wildcats finished in third place of the GLIAC North division.

The Wildcats graduated five senior’s last year, including the teams three leading scorers.

The ’Cats are without any seniors on this year’s squad and have yet to name captains.

The team will feature four juniors serving as the team veterans, who are libero and defensive specialist Alex Berger, setter Stacy Kalsbeek, defensive specialist Lindsey Keough and left setter Lisa Studnicka.

The Wildcats added eight freshmen to their roster for the 2014 season, including right-side hitter and middle hitter Blaire Zenner who will be redshirting her freshman year.

Kalsbeek said the team has confidence heading into the start of the season.

“We feel like we can go all the way this season,” Kalsbeek said. “We have little things to work out as a new team, but we have great communication and we do a great job coming together as one whole team.

“When we go out, we can be just as good as anyone in this conference once we start to play.”