CMU volleyball headed to MAC tournament

CMU's volleyball team huddles during a match against Western Michigan Saturday, Nov. 12 in McGuirk Arena.

After a successful regular season, Central Michigan volleyball has secured its spot in the Mid-American Conference tournament for the first time since 2019. 

The Chippewas ended the regular season 19-10 and 12-6 in MAC play, securing the No.4 seed in the MAC tournament. 

As a result, CMU will take on No. 5 Toledo (18-11, 11-7) in the first round of the tournament in Muncie, Indiana on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

“We work incredibly hard to put ourselves in this kind of position,” said head coach Mike Gawlik. “And just because it feels like it's maybe a little bit more pressure or expectation or all those things, it's what we've worked our tails off for. So I think we can't forget to enjoy the moment and embrace the moment and really kind of reflect on the hard work it's taken to put us in this position.” 

In the regular season, the Chippewas split with Toledo.

“I think it's interesting, because we played them, but we played them what feels like a long time ago,” Gawlik said. “It was like six weeks ago, which is forever in volleyball season time, because you grow a lot in that time. 

“As we look back at video, I think one of the things that really caught us for a loop a little bit on the first night was their speed,” Gawlik said. “They run a pretty fast tempo. Luckily for us, kind of over the time since we've played them, we've played a few other teams in our league that have used that kind of tempo and speed. And so it's given us a little bit more preparation to practice and get used to that and kind of change up our defensive positioning.” 

CMU dominated the second half of conference play going 8-2 in the final stretch.

“The second half of the MAC season has gone pretty well,” Gawlik said. “And I think we've been playing more consistently than we were in the first half… I think we've played some really good volleyball a lot more than we haven't. You work all year to try to put yourself in a position to be peaking in the third week of November, and I think we're in a pretty good spot.”

The Chippewas will have a lot of contributions in the tournament but Gawlik says the team will look towards the seniors, outside hitter Mallory Hernandez, outside hitter Anna Erickson, and middle blocker Maddie Whitfield. 

“I think any coach will tell you that seniors lead the way in a lot of ways,” Gawlik said. “Mallory, Maddie and Anna I think have had a big presence for us in the second half and have been playing really well… I think that you look to your seniors to help lead the way and kind of be that experience for you, but we're gonna need contributions from everybody just like we have all year long.” 

On the offensive side, Hernandez has gotten hot in the second half of MAC play, securing double-digit kills in the last nine of 10 games for CMU.

Erickson is right behind Hernandez, ranking second in kills with 258. She has six double-doubles on the season. 

Coming off of an injury from the year before, Whitfield has made the most of her final season as a Chippewa, ranking first in blocks with 127 and fourth in kills with 186. She currently ranks third in the MAC in blocks, averaging 1.19 blocks per set. 

The Chippewas will also look to freshman setter Claire Ammeraal who has received MAC Setter of the Week two weeks in a row leading to the tournament. 

On the defensive end, they will look to sophomore libero Aly Gurtiza, who has been a consistent back-row defender, breaking the single-season dig record at CMU this season. 

If the Chippewas secure the first-round win, they will advance to the second round where they will face off against tournament hosts No.1 Ball State on Monday. CMU defeated Ball State twice in the regular season. 

“It wouldn't surprise me if any one of the six teams won that tournament,” Gawlik said. “But it wouldn't surprise me if we won the tournament as well. So it comes down to how you're playing in this kind of final five-day period between the last match of the year and moving into the tournament.”