'It means everything': CMU volleyball sweeps on Autism Awareness night

CMU volleyball players cheer in a huddle during CMU's match against Miami (Ohio) Saturday, Oct. 22 in McGuirk Arena.

Central Michigan volleyball came into this week losing three of its last four against conference-leading opponents and needed a turnaround in a big way. 

The Chippewas did a full 180, and completed three-straight sweeps, finishing the week off with a 3-0 win over Miami (Ohio) (25-10, 25-8, 25-21) on Sunday to improve to 14-8 overall and 7-4 in conference play. 

“It makes us really confident,” said senior outside hitter Anna Erickson. “I feel like in the past, sometimes our confidence has wavered, so now we know how good we are and how good we can be. We have big goals, so I think this just boosts our confidence and we can go into the next couple matches with the confidence that we earned.”

Autism Acceptance was the theme for Sunday's match as educational videos were played. In addition to educational material, sound consciousness was a main focus in McGuirk Arena with sensory rooms prepared in two locations.  

The cause hits close to home for CMU head coach Mike Gawlik, as his four-year-old daughter is on the autism spectrum. 

“It means everything,” Gawlik said. “She's everything to me. And it really means a lot that people around here embrace such a cool game. They've just embraced our family even though it's a little different and a little bit neurodiverse. But she's just the light of our world.

“It's an opportunity to recognize people with neurodiversity and celebrate those differences because it makes things exciting, and it makes things interesting. But it was just such a cool event. And I was just grateful to see it come together the way it did.”

The Chippewas recorded a season-high hitting percentage of .463 and shut down the RedHawks' offensive attack, holding them to a .121. 

Senior outside hitter Mallory Hernandez pushed her streak of double-digit kills games to three. In the second matchup versus Miami, Hernandez put up 17 kills on a .810 hitting percentage.

“She played like she had plans at five o'clock, and I'm here for it,” Gawlik said. “... She just was hot and feeling it. She and I have kind of talked over the last three matches about her role and how that can change and she came out of the Bowling Green weekend not playing as well… And I said to her in the meeting ‘you're gonna get hot in the second half.’

“I think in some way she just needed to know that we still believe in her and kind of like that we're gonna still work through some things and she's just gone into another mode, which we're going to need to go where we want to go.” 

Senior middle blocker Maddie Whitfield put up five kills and three blocks. In the match, Whitfield broke the CMU record for career solo blocks with 78 since rally scoring which began in 2001. 

Sophomore libero Aly Gurtiza created service pressure for the Chippewas with four aces along with 16 digs. She ended the weekend series with six aces. 

“It's really been something that I'm focusing on the last weekend,” Gurtiza said. "Because it wasn't so great at the beginning of the season. So I really focused on it this weekend and tried to put in an aggressive serve and I think it did a lot for our team.”

Erickson helped on the offensive attack, ending the night with nine kills on a .381 hitting percentage. 

After falling behind early, CMU went on a 15-0 run aided by six kills from Hernandez to take a 21-8 lead. The Chippewas fended off the RedHawks to secure a 25-10 win in set one. 

Erickson and Hernandez both ended the set with six kills. 

CMU picked up right where it left off, jumping out to an 11-3 lead to begin the second set. The Chippewas outscored the RedHawks 7-1 down the stretch and finished off set two, 25-8, winning their eighth-straight set. 

The Chippewas took advantage of a block from Whitfield and grabbed an early 9-4 advantage. Looking to avoid the sweep, the RedHawks pulled ahead momentarily. But CMU fought back as Hernandez and Gurtiza helped it reestablish an advantage. The Chippewas took the match with a 25-21 victory in set three. 

The Chippewas will look to extend their win streak when they travel to Akron, Ohio to face Akron on Friday at 6 p.m.