Central Michigan volleyball set to welcome in rival Western


Central Michigan outside hitter Kalina Smith serves against Akron Oct. 25 at McGuirk Arena.

As soon as the ball hit the floor to conclude the fifth set of Central Michigan's loss to Buffalo, the team's focus shifted to the upcoming opponent.

Coach Mike Gawlik and his players switched their thoughts to Western Michigan, the rival program that comes to town Thursday night.

The Broncos enter the match at 12-10 on the season, posting a 3-7 record within the Mid-American Conference. Central Michigan currently holds a three-game lead in the West Division, as Ball State's 5-5 mark is the closest to the Chippewas' 8-2 conference record.

The 6 p.m. match on Thursday night at McGuirk Arena will mark the second time these squads have met this season. 

The first time the Chippewas and Broncos clashed came on Sept 28, a match in which the Chippewas swept all three sets. In that event, Central Michigan was led offensively by junior outside hitter Kalina Smith's 10 kills while junior middle blocker Megan Sivertsen led the defense with seven blocks. 

The Broncos are led offensively by junior outside hitter Rachel Borntrager, who comes into the match leading the MAC in kills and points per set, just one spot ahead of Smith in kills per set. Borntrager is coming off a match in which she set a new season-high in kills, scoring 24 in the five-set loss to Kent State. 

"I think she's just about as good as anyone in the league," Gawlik said of Borntrager. 

Borntrager isn't the only Bronco near the top of the conference leaderboards. Junior middle blocker Janell Williams is third in blocks per set, while senior libero Kathleen Riley is third in digs per set. 

The Chippewas are also represented in each of those categories, as sophomore middle blocker Maddie Whitfield is sixth in blocks per set, while senior libero Megan Kern is fourth in digs per set. 

Gawlik is aware of the implications that come with each match as the regular season comes to a close.

"Six matches to go down the stretch, I think they're important for everyone and they're important for different reasons," Gawlik said. "I think the team that keeps their composure and just plays the game one point at a time is gonna be the team down the stretch for all MAC matches that's gonna find success."

Thursday's home game is being dubbed as the "Halloween Costumes and Candy match." Admission is free to all who wear a costume to the game, and trick-or-treating opportunities will be available inside McGuirk Arena. 

After taking on Western Michigan, the Chippewas next take the court at home Saturday when they take on Northern Illinois.