CMU volleyball sweeps opening round of MAC Tournament

Senior middle blocker Maddie Whitfield hits the ball over the net Sunday, Nov. 20, in Worthen Arena, on the campus of Ball State University in Munice, Ind.

In a win-or-go-home situation, Central Michigan volleyball swept Toledo 3-0 (28-26, 25-22, 25-21) in the first round of the Mid-American Conference on Sunday in Muncie, Indiana.

Ahead of the match, head coach Mike Gawlik said he wanted the seniors leading the charge.

“I think our seniors have to kind of blaze a path,” Gawlik said. “To have three seniors step up in big moments, I think is a sign that we're moving in the right direction. And yet I don't look at any one of their hitting lines and say that was the best I've ever seen. But when you link three seniors together you get a pretty good output.” 

Following a tough final regular season match, where she got pulled in the first set, senior outside hitter Anna Erickson led the way for the Chippewas with 13 kills, eight digs and one block. 

“I feel like just as a senior, I've kind of grown in that aspect,” Erickson said. “I can get pulled and learn from that and kind of flush that and reset and know that each game is something new. So I just came in with the mentality to be more aggressive and this is kind of the last turn of the season so like go all out.” 

On the defensive end, senior middle blocker Maddie Whitfield led the charge with eight blocks while adding six kills. 

“I'm honestly just thinking of my family,” Whitfield said. “I had a family member pass recently and so I just turn my sadness into motivation… just thinking of my team, and I'm doing it for more than (just) me.”

Senior outside hitter Mallory Hernandez ended with eight kills along with six blocks.

The Chippewas recorded 11 blocks and held Toledo to a .143 hitting percentage. 

“It's what we're special at,” Gawlik said. “I think that our blocking and our defense create opportunities for us to transition. I have a ton of respect for Toledo and what they bring to the table, and I think Taylor Halt is as good of an attacker in this league as we have. I felt like we did a good job of staying the course. We said we weren't going to hold her to zero kills a set, but we were going to try to limit the damage. 

“And it's hard to say with somebody that had near five (kills) a set over three sets, we limited the damage. But I thought we really did a good job of actually keeping her in check because she's such an elite attacker in this league. And I thought we accepted that challenge.” 

With the first set tied at 10, the Rockets went on a three-point run, grabbing momentum.  On Toledo’s set point, Whitfield recorded a block to tie it at 24. An ace from junior setter Kamryn Olson sealed the set win for the Chippewas, 28-26.

The Rockets jumped out to an 11-5 lead in set two. However, a kill from Whitfield started a 7-2 run to put CMU within one. Down 21-20, Erickson buried back-to-back kills, putting CMU ahead 22-21. The Chippewas kept the momentum rolling and locked up the second 25-22. Erickson had seven kills in the set.

After falling behind in set three, the Chippewas went on an 11-3 run to take a six-point lead over Toledo. Back-to-back blocks from CMU jump-started another run, extending its lead to 19-12. The Rockets cut the lead to three off a 6-2 run. However, following a timeout, the Chippewas completed the sweep, 25-21, to seal the sweep. 

“I feel like just extending our season is important to us,” Erickson said. “Because we only have so long. I feel like our teammates are pushing for that as well for the seniors and for the rest of the team.” 

The Chippewas move on to round two of the MAC Tournament, where they face off against No.1-seed Ball State on Monday at 4:30 p.m.

CMU defeated Ball State in the regular season twice however Gawlik feels that both teams have grown since then.

“I think a lot of people are going to look at well we beat them twice in the beginning of the year,” Gawlik said. “But there's a lot of growth that takes place on both sides between weekend one and weekend nine or 10. They've grown a lot. I think we've grown a lot."

For Gawlik, sweeping Toledo helps CMU's confidence heading into the matchup.

“The one thing we do have is momentum,” Gawlik said. “We feel like we've played in the MAC tournament at this point. We've gotten some of those jitters out. And I'm hoping that tomorrow when we come out initially and it's the first whistle that we can capitalize on some of the butterflies that are natural for a team like Ball State. 

"We've got to be ready to jump on them early while they're experiencing what we were experiencing at times tonight. It's tough to beat a team three times a year, but I think that's a challenge that we're up for.”