Volleyball welcomes Eastern Michigan for final home tilt
Central Michigan was back to its winning ways throughout the past weekend, sweeping the two-game slate consisting of rival Western Michigan and fellow conference foe Northern Illinois.
Headlined by the 31-kill weekend by Mid-American Conference West Division Offensive Player of the Week Kalina Smith, the Chippewas made it look rather easy.
However, an easy contest is not expected at 6 p.m. Thursday when Central Michigan hosts Eastern Michigan.
The two squads last met on Oct. 3, a match won by the Chippewas three sets to one. Eastern took the first set 25-18 before the Chippewas took each of the last three.
"They're a pretty good blocking team and a gritty defensive team," said senior libero Megan Kern. "We know that we'll just have to stay patient."
"They're definitely a feisty team," Smith, a junior outside hitter, added. "If they get hot they get excited, and if they get down they lay down. We just got to make sure we come out hot and make them lay down."
The Eagles are led by the three-headed monster of junior outside hitter Frankie Strefling, redshirt-senior middle blocker Cassie Haut, and redshirt-freshman Raevan Chase.
Strefling and Haut are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the conference in kills per set, while Chase is fourth in hitting percentage.
"They've got a couple of good players who are breakout players," said fourth-year coach Mike Gawlik. "Raevan (Chase) has really blossomed as an attacker and an offensive weapon for them (Eastern), and Cassie Haut is probably as good an attacker as there is in the league."
The Chippewas remain represented well within the conference leaderboards. Junior middle blocker Lisbeth Rosario-Martinez is tops in the conference in hitting percentage, Smith is second in kills per set, Kern is fourth in digs, and sophomore middle blocker Maddie Whitfield is fifth in blocks per set.
Central Michigan will be without sophomore setter Kendall Braate, who is out indefinitely with a concussion.
The loss of Braate will cause the Chippewas to stay with a one setter look while likely incorporating a second defensive specialist.
"We did pretty well against Northern (Illinois), and so we've got a lot of faith that people will step up in their same role," Gawlik said. "We've got a lot of options coming off the bench."
The Chippewas come into the game at 20-4 overall and 10-2 in the MAC, while Eastern comes in at 9-15 with a 4-8 record in the MAC.
With a victory over the Eagles and a loss by Ball State in its contest with Western Michigan on Saturday, the Chippewas would clinch the MAC West Division championship.
"It's a big deal for us," Gawlik said. "It's not the end of the journey by any means, but it's a step we'd like to take."
After the contest with Eastern, Central Michigan will finish its campaign with three-straight road games. The first of the road trifecta comes Saturday when the Chippewas travel to Ohio.