Eastern Michigan game crucial for volleyball tournament hopes
It will be a November to remember for the Central Michigan volleyball team.
The Chippewas host Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. Thursday and travel to Ohio, the best team in the Mid-American Conference, at 7 p.m. Saturday in the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.
CMU (10-15, 5-7 MAC) sits in the eighth spot in the MAC, which would give the Chippewas the final spot in the MAC Tournament if it started today. The team has four matches remaining.
The Chippewas fell to the Eagles in Ypsilanti 3-1 on Oct. 1. Another loss to EMU (12-13, 4-8 MAC) could drop the Chippewas to ninth place in the MAC.
Senior middle blocker Kalle Mulford said the team is seeking revenge.
“I think the whole team knows that the loss should never have happened,” she said. “We’re going to play how we expected to play the first time.”
The Ohio (20-5, 10-2 MAC) Bobcats are led by senior setter Abby Gilleland, who leads the MAC with 10.39 assists per set. The Bobcats also boast a good defense, as their .141 opponent hitting percentage also ranks first in the conference.
Ohio leads the MAC in digs (17.54 per set), blocks (2.37 per set) and aces (1.64 per set) and is tied for first overall in the conference standings. The Chippewas fell to the Bobcats at home 3-1 in their last meeting on Sept. 27, 2014.
Athens, Ohio will be the site of the MAC Tournament Nov. 19-22. Associate Head Coach Theresa Beeckman called the match a “dress rehearsal” for the tournament, while Mulford said she understands the importance of the match.
“We’re excited to get a preview almost for a lot of the new players so we’re not going into the tournament blind,” Mulford said.
CMU will be aided by their newfound depth, as 11 players took the court for the Chippewas in their 3-0 loss to Northern Illinois.
“If you don’t use the depth that we just gained, then those two losses were for waste,” Beeckman said.
The Chippewas will have the luxury of playing EMU at home, its final match at McGuirk Arena in 2015. Sophomore middle blocker Paige Carey said there is an advantage playing on CMU’s John G. Kulhavi Court.
“I think we’re just pumped up in general,” she said. “At any home game, we are always going to have a lot of energy because we have fans. It’s our turf, kind of.”
CMU is also getting healthier. Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Bueter (undisclosed injury) is probable, according to Beeckman. She added that senior middle blocker Angie White (right ankle) is listed as questionable.
The coaches will listen to the training staff on Thursday for its decisions. Bueter will have her first full practice back on Wednesday and Beeckman said she is closer to returning to the court on Thursday.
“The thing that people don’t realize is how much (Bueter) adds to our court in terms of defense,” she said. “Her offense was the least of our missing her.”
White has been out of the lineup since the Chippewas swept Bowling Green on the road on Oct. 16. She has missed the four-match homestand and could miss Thursday’s match, which means her days at McGuirk Arena could be over.
The volleyball program honored White, Mulford and senior defensive specialist Haley Barker for their contributions prior to the team’s Halloween match against NIU. Their match against the Eagles will be their last at home.
Despite bidding farewell to the court she called home for the past four years, Mulford is more excited to take on the Eagles.
“I don’t really get sentimental or anything,” she said. “I’m not going to be sad that it’s our last game at McGuirk. I’m really excited and I’m really happy that it’s against Eastern. I love playing Eastern.”
White’s absence has allowed Paige Carey to receive more playing time, and the sophomore has relished it so far. Carey has totaled 20 kills in the first four matches of this homestand.
Carey credits junior setter Kathia Sanchez for her success so far, but said her team’s blocking has been key. Carey tallied a team-high five blocks against WMU.
Right now, Beeckman said she is not focused on guiding the Chippewas to their first MAC championship since 2011. She is focused on EMU, saying her team’s pass and serve game as well as its depth is something the team did not have during its first matchup in Ypsilanti.
Beeckman is taking measures to make sure her team understands the magnitude of the matchups. The volleyball page on Twitter has used #November2Remember and she has written the MAC standings on the board at practice.
“We take every game for what it’s worth,” Beeckman said. “We’re taking every game one game at a time.”