COLUMN: Volleyball redefining its season heading into MAC Tournament
A team's season isn't defined by how it handles success, but rather how it reacts when faced with adversity.
On Oct. 20, after being swept for the second-consecutive time and losing four straight matches, including seven of its last eight, Central Michigan volleyball had a choice to make.
The team could either go through the motions and let its season crumble, or give every ounce it had to dig itself out of the bottom tier of the Mid-American Conference at 2-7.
At this point, many people had written off the Chippewas' chances for a MAC run. After all, the preseason MAC coaches poll predicted CMU to finish last in MAC West Division.
With their backs against the wall facing last-place Akron at home, CMU swept the Zips to win its first match in over two weeks.
Two days later, the Chippewas defeated first-place Ball State for another win. Then came two wins after that. Before you know it, CMU picked up its fifth straight win to move to econd place in the MAC West.
With two games remaining, CMU is red hot and playing its best volleyball of the season heading into the MAC Tournament.
Under the leadership of head coach Mike Gawlik, the team is playing at a level offensively and defensively needed for a run at the MAC Tournament title.
The Chippewas are finding contributors all over the roster, whether it be from a senior or a freshman or somewhere in between.
After battling through a nagging shoulder injury, senior Jordan Bueter has played a critical role in CMU's five-game win streak. The South Bend, Indiana native leads the conference with 388 kills, averaging 4.04 kills per set. During the team's current win streak, Bueter has recorded 77 kills and 55 digs.
Another player that has stepped up as of late is outside hitter Kalina Smith. The freshman's play has provided a huge spark to the Chippewas, contributing 69 kills and 22 digs during the win streak.
In addition to improving her statistics, Smith's success has freed up lanes for Bueter, allowing her to face less pressure at the net.
Freshman Grace Butler has set up the CMU offense all season long, but has really found her groove lately. The setter has 215 assists in the team's last five matches, averaging 43 per match.
With the freshmen no longer playing like freshmen, and the seniors playing some of their best volleyball of their careers, the Chippewas will be a tough team to beat during the MAC Tournament.
The team proved it could compete nationally after going 8-4 in non-conference, and proved itself in the MAC by defeating MAC West contenders Ball State, Toledo and Western Michigan.
Instead of burying their heads in the sand, the Chippewas dug deep and found a way to get to .500.
Should Central Michigan be the tournament favorite? Probably not. But would I be surprised if this team came back from Oxford, Ohio as MAC Tournament champions?