Recapping Central Michigan volleyball's 21-7 regular season


Central Michigan middle blocker Maddie Whitfield spikes the ball against Western Michigan Oct. 31 at McGuirk Arena.

The race is coming to the final turn. 

Central Michigan volleyball travels to the Mid-American Conference Tournament this weekend as the No. 2 seed, set to take on the winner of Friday's contest between Bowling Green and Buffalo. 

However, before looking ahead to Saturday's semifinal matchup, it's necessary to take a moment and reflect on the regular season that the Chippewas recently completed. 

Central Michigan snagged a share of the MAC West title for the first time since 2003 with a Nov. 15 win over Toledo. The Chippewas were unable to secure the outright title, but the share of the title paired with holding a tiebreaker over Ball State and Bowling Green gave them the No. 2 seed in the tournament. 

Central Michigan started the season with a 5-1 mark, a stretch that saw it go 2-1 in the Chippewa Invitational. The Chippewas lost the first game of the DePaul Invitational the following weekend to the host Blue Demons and proceeded to win their next 12 matches, including their first seven conference matches. 

A loss to eventual MAC champion Miami (Ohio) snapped the win streak, but the Chippewas followed that with an emphatic three-set sweep over then-MAC East leader Akron. However, the season fell into a downward spiral, as the Chippewas won just three of their final six matches to finish 21-7 on the season. 

Following the regular season, coach Mike Gawlik was named MAC Coach of the Year. 

"It's a cool honor because it comes from your peers," Gawlik said. "To be singled out not only as an individual but as a staff, we've worked incredibly hard over the last four years. We're really proud of where we've gotten the program."

Juniors Kalina Smith (outside hitter) and Lisbeth Rosario-Martinez (middle blocker) earned First Team All-MAC while senior libero Megan Kern, juniors Grace Butler (setter) and Megan Sivertsen (middle blocker), and sophomores Maddie Whitfield (middle blocker) and Kendall Braate (setter) all won weekly conference awards throughout the season. 

Rosario-Martinez finished fourth in the conference in hitting percentage and fifth in service aces, while Smith was fourth in kills per set and hit a career-high .180. Kern was fourth in digs per set while Whitfield finished eighth in blocks per set. 

As a team, the Chippewas were at the top in three defensive statistics within the conference, finishing first in opponent hitting percentage, assists and kills. They also finished third in the conference in assists per set, thanks in large part to the tandem of Butler and Braate. 

The Chippewas earned a double-bye in the conference tournament, meaning they will play in Saturday's second semifinal match against the winner of Friday's quarterfinal between Buffalo and Bowling Green. Their match on Saturday is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

The conference tournament is held at the Stroh Center on Bowling Green State's campus.