Volleyball season starts with Wildcat Open

Ray Bressette

Vandament Arena will be filled with Wildcat fans once again this weekend as the ’Cats open the season playing four games in three days in the Wildcat Open tournament.

The tournament at Vandament Arena will consist of six teams including hosts NMU and Michigan Tech, as well as Fort Hays State University, Upper Iowa University, Cedarville University and Lake Superior State University.re-AV_Volleyball_5

NMU’s first match will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3 against Lake Superior State. The following night, the ’Cats will host Cedarville at 7 p.m.

Saturday is set to be a doubleheader for the Wildcats, facing Upper Iowa at 1 p.m. then returning at 5 p.m. to play Fort Hays State.

Senior left setter Lisa Studnicka said they’re familiar with the opponents in the tournament.

“Starting off with Lake Superior State will be a tough challenge,” Studnicka said. “Anytime we face a team that’s in the GLIAC, it’s a tough match. We lost to Cedarville last year, they’re a really good serving team. We’ve been working on how to attack that and also improve our serving all week in practice.”

NMU head coach Dominic Yoder said he’s seen great improvements to the team in the offseason.

“I think we have a good team this year,” Yoder said. “We’re a year older than last year with the majority of our players returning. We have a good dynamic to this team, and this will be a fun group to watch. They play hard, compete and never give up. It’s going to be good for our student body as well as for our fans to watch.”

The ’Cats have two seniors on their squad this season in Studnicka as well as libero and defensive specialist Alex Berger.

Yoder said his two seniors bring successful experience to this year’s squad.

“They’re going to be great leaders for all of us,” Yoder said. “Those two will show the younger players how we play on the floor and give them the expectations and tools they’ll need heading into their sophomore and junior seasons.”

NMU will have five juniors and six sophomores. Four freshmen have been added to the Wildcats’ roster, including redshirt middle hitter Megan Frakes (Olathe, Kans.), left setters Maggie Liebeck (Luxemburg, Wis.) and Autumn Monsma (Grand Haven, Mich.) as well as setter Lynzi Svoboda (Minneapolis, Minn.).

Last season, Studnicka was NMU’s leading point getter with 330, averaging 3.6 per set. Studnicka also led the ’Cats in kills with 294, averaging 3.2 per set. Berger earned 512 digs to lead the ’Cats, averaging 5.02 per set.

The Wildcats’ squad, which did not feature any seniors last year, finished third in the GLIAC North Division with a 14-4 conference record, 14-14 overall. The ’Cats were upset in a sweep by the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals in the opening round of the GLIAC playoffs on Nov. 12.

Yoder is entering his ninth season as the ’Cats head coach, and is third in NMU’s all time win-loss record at 153-93. Yoder brought NMU to three straight NCAA tournament appearances from 2008-11.

NMU has had a winning season for 12 straight years, and since joining NMU the ’Cats are 65-15 at Vandament Arena.

The GLIAC preseason coaches poll predicted NMU to finish fourth out of eight teams in the GLIAC North Division this season. Ferris State University was picked to finish first in the conference as well as fifth in the region, while Grand Valley State University was picked to finish second in the division and third in the region.

Studnicka said the ’Cats have higher hopes for their season than fourth place.

“Our goal is to win the division with the top seed as well as the conference championship,” Studnicka said. “I think we all see [the polls], but we strive to be better than that. We know what we have to do to win, and we know we have the potential to be a great team this season.”