Volleyball hoping to ‘go for it’ during tough home weekend
The Central Michigan volleyball team has no fear as the two top teams in the Mid-American Conference West Division come to town this Halloween weekend.
The Chippewas host Western Michigan on Friday and Northern Illinois on Saturday at McGuirk Arena. Both matches start at 7 p.m.
The Chippewas (10-13, 5-5 MAC) fell to the Huskies 3-1 to open MAC play but defeated the rival Broncos the following day in five sets to win in Kalamazoo for the first time since 2006.
Now, the Chippewas get them both at home, where the team has accumulated a 5-3 record. Senior middle blocker Kalle Mulford said playing at McGuirk Arena is an advantage.
“We’re in here every day,” she said “It’s McGuirk Arena. If you’re a Chippewa, it should mean everything to you, especially being on the volleyball team. I spend more time here than I probably do in my apartment.”
CMU is looking forward to the home matchups. NIU (12-10, 8-2 MAC) is led by junior Jenna Radke who leads the MAC in hitting percentage (.378) and blocks (1.26 per set). Junior T’ara Austin also is first in the conference with 4.28 kills per set.
Mulford said she is most looking forward to the matchup against NIU, while Associate Head Coach Theresa Beeckman said she is looking forward to going up against WMU once again.
“They’re really good at adapting to whatever’s going on in their world,” she said. “When we played them there, it was a dogfight. Everyone was going for it. I think Western does a good job of just making you play.”
The Broncos (10-15, 6-4 MAC) are a game above the Chippewas, who are tied for third place with Ball State. WMU is led by junior Nicole Kinser and freshman Hailey Knecht, who are fourth in the MAC in blocks and digs, respectively.
Sophomore defensive specialist Courtney Hiltibran called the first battle in Kalamazoo “awesome.”
“We were just so hungry to play,” she said. “We were so happy to be there and happy to play volleyball together.”
CMU could once again be without senior middle blocker Angie White this weekend. White, who is sidelined indefinitely with a right ankle injury, is in seventh place in the conference with blocks with 1.03 per set.
Mulford and sophomore Paige Carey have worked at middle blocker in her absence. In last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Buffalo, Mulford recorded 12 kills and the team tallied 15 blocks.
CMU is second in the conference in blocks with 2.24 per set. Beeckman said this is not a must-win weekend for her team despite the MAC West standings.
“We're not putting pressure on ourselves to do this or that,” Beeckman said. “We’re the number one blocking team in the conference and we’re just doing it with aggression. We’re moving right up the charts in serving because we’re going for it.”
Hiltibran stressed this weekend and the rest of the season, saying “everyone’s coming after our throats.”
“We just want to keep pushing,” she said. “Right now we’re 5-5. It’s awesome to see how hard we’re still working all the way into the season.”
Mulford will get her last crack at both of these teams as her senior season winds down. She said it is no secret the magnitude of the home pairing.
“The team knows it’s a big weekend,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting. It’s probably the most exciting weekend I’ve looked forward to all season. It’s my favorite weekend of the year.”
Beeckman hopes to move up in the standings with a pair of wins on Halloween weekend. She added that there is only one way to do that.
“Execution,” Beeckman said. “If we execute, we’re really scary.”