'We don't want to be done yet': CMU volleyball secures place in MAC tournament
A lot was at stake for Central Michigan volleyball as it went into rivalry weekend against Western Michigan.
Not only did the Chippewas beat their rivals for the first time since 2019, but they also secured their spot in the Mid-American Conference tournament.
After the win, CMU honored its three seniors Mallory Hernandez, Anna Erickson and Maddie Whitfield.
“What they bring to our program is more than just their ability to kill volleyballs and block volleyballs,” said head coach Mike Gawlik. “And that would have been the same thing whether we had lost tonight or went 0-2 this weekend or went 0-25 this year. They’re a big piece of who we are in our family and (I’m) proud of who they've become as humans more than just what they become as volleyball players.”
A transfer from Georgia, Hernandez leads the team in kills with 338 and points with 374.5. She dominated on the offensive end in the WMU series with 46 kills along with nine blocks.
Even though this is Hernandez’s first year with CMU, she feels like she has been able to gain a connection with the team through her small time as a Chippewa.
“I think this has been more than anything I could have ever asked for,” Hernandez said. “I feel like I've been here for four years. And it's only been a year. This is the best thing that I could have done, and I'm so happy that I came here.”
On the other hand, Whitfield has been at CMU for five years. She has left her mark as one of the best blockers in school history, ranking first in career solo blocks since rally scoring, most blocks in a single match, and ranks third in career blocks with 349.
This season is no different for Whitfield as she leads the Chippewas in blocks with 125 while adding 178 kills.
“This program is like a family to me,” Whitfield said. “It's a good and a bad thing leaving. It's good that this program has meant so much to me, and it makes it so hard to leave. So, I'm really grateful for that. It's a lot of good memories to look back on.”
Erickson has evolved as the leader of the team throughout the year with Gawlik calling her the team's “Mama Bear.” Erickson currently ranks second in kills right behind Hernandez with 258 while also ranking fifth in both digs (211) and blocks (52).
“I feel like not many Division I athletes can come away from our program and just think of so many positives,” Erickson said. “It’s just amazing how we've all had such good experiences here. And the culture that Mike (Gawlik) and the coaches have created, it's just, I think, outstanding, and to leave such an awesome team and family so sad, but we're excited to see them in the future and end the season on a high note.”
The emotions were felt even more with it potentially being their last home game of their career.
“I was crying before we even started warming up,” Whitfield said. “I was like, this is the last time we're doing pregame stuff in McGuirk together, but it was a really special moment that we all played together, and it was just a good way to go out at McGuirk.”
Before the weekend, WMU had dominated the rivalry through the last couple of years, going 4-0, so getting this win means even more to the seniors who had faced defeat in those seasons.
“It’s good to get revenge before we get out of here,” Whitfield said.
After a down season in 2021, Erickson believes sweeping the Broncos shows how much the team has grown.
“It’s a big statement on how much we've improved as a team over the past couple of years,” Erickson said. “And how special this group really is. To have such a good weekend going into the tournament coming up soon, I think it's really important.”
Extending the season
With the MAC tournament on the horizon, the three seniors are excited to get the opportunity to extend their season one game at a time.
“I feel like just extending our season would mean so much to us,” Erickson said. “Instead of just being done after the regular season to have a couple more games I mean, we don't know how many are guaranteed, but just to know that we have at least one more game under our belt is awesome. And I know the team has fought so hard to give us that chance and just the team that chance.”
Gawlik also feels it is important to try and extend their season for the seniors.
“We’re fighting to extend match by match,” Gawlik said. “Getting them another opportunity to put on maroon and gold I think is a really cool thing to be fighting for on a day-to-day basis.”
Knowing that their CMU volleyball careers are coming to an end following this season, all of them want to continue to put their max effort in to continue their journey as long as possible.
“We don't want to be done yet,” Hernadez said. “So, we're gonna keep giving it our all so we can keep going as far as we can.”