CMU volleyball says goodbye to four seniors

Central Michigan volleyball team and family celebrate the graduating senior during the Senior Night ceremony, Saturday, Nov. 11 in McGuirk Arena. Seniors family and frends came out to support. (CM-Life | Jenna Spanola)

On Saturday, Central Michigan volleyball honored its four seniors following its loss to Ohio University. 

“Whether you win or lose is still a celebration of what people have given to the program both in their blood sweat and tears and those types of things,” head coach Mike Gawlik said.  “One by one our seniors I think are all special in their own way. And each one of them has a unique path to be here and their career looks so different.” 

The Chippewas honor and say goodbye to four seniors, who all played in Saturday's match. 

Devon Bright 

Transferring from Nicholls State, outside hitter Devon Bright wanted one more year to play volleyball after spending three years at Nicholls State. 

“Devin was a player that we had seen a year ago at Nicholls State,” Gawlik said. “She was playing really well and was jumpy and flies around and so when we see her name in the portal and we have the opportunity to add a pin hitter to our roster, we just thought she was very different than the kind of players we had in our gym.”

Bright put up three season highs at the SEMO Invitational with 14 kills, four assists and 17.5 points. 

She continued to be a strong presence for CMU recording seven service aces in her first home game at the Chippewa Invitational. Helping to get the win at Eastern Bright recorded a season-high 16 digs. 

“One thing I’ll say about Devon is she’s a really mature person,” Gawlik said. “Just a bright smile and her easygoingness on the floor are infectious. She’s fun to play with because she’s so easygoing. There’s nothing that really gets to her.”

Hailing from Georgia, Bright didn’t get the luxury of already knowing the players on the team before coming to CMU but Gawlik isn’t lost on how easy it was for her to gel with the team. 

“It’s really challenging to come into a new situation where you’re coming in as a year player,” Gawlik said. “You only have one year and you’re twenty-two years old. You’ve already gotten your degree and you’re surrounded by this brand-new group of people from Michigan. 

"She’s not even remotely from here, these are not people she all knew from high school or knew from club volleyball, but she welcomes us with open arms because she’s so easy to get along with and just connects with everybody.”

Gawlik had a lot to say about Bright, but what he’s most impressed by is how much of an impact she was able to leave on the program and hopes she feels the same. 

“She’s been a real bright spot in our program,” Gawlik said. “Her time is somewhat fleeting only a season in our program, but I think she’s made her impact on us and hopefully we’ve helped her in some ways.”

Kayla Brandon 

In her two seasons with the Chippewas, Kayla Brandon has made her presence known recording 179 digs and 22 service aces. 

“Her role changed,” Gawlik said. “She role changed from being kind of like a reverse and then she earned more permanent time and she’s been a real good passer for us. And I think that her easygoingness on the floor is one of the things that kind of got her an opportunity. She’s easy to play with and easy to play around.” 

Brandon put up two season highs at Northern Illinois University with one kill and 10 digs. At Kent State, she helped aid the Chippewas to sweep the Golden Flashes with three service aces. 

Despite being a typical back-row player, Brandon managed to record a block against Bowling Green. 

While Gawlik enjoys what Brandon has been able to do on the court for CMU, he also enjoys Brandon as a person. 

“I enjoy my conversations with Kayla as much about non-volleyball things as I do about volleyball,” Gawlik said. “She is just a really really interesting person and in a really wonderful way she is another person that transferred in but was welcomed with open arms because she’s so easy to get along with.” 

The most important thing Gawlik has gotten from Brandon is a sense of friendship. 

“I think I would be friends with Kayla in five years,” Gawlik said. “She’s just a cool kid. I think she is interesting … Kayla is going to live on the beach someday and just kind of hang out there forever and do things in that regard.” 

Austyn DeWeese

Middle blocker Austyn Dewesse has spent all four years wearing maroon and gold.

This season she recorded two career highs against Toledo with six kills and five blocks.  

Due to an injury during her sophomore year, Dewesse didn’t see the court as much as she and Gawlik would have wanted. 

“My heart breaks for Austyn,” Gawlik said. “Her career looks very different than maybe we all thought ... she dislocated her shoulder playing volleyball, (it) required surgery and we tried to take care of it, and it turned into a 15-month recovery.” 

With her recovery time taking away from playing, it could have been easy for DeWesse to end her volleyball career and medically retire but she didn’t and that choice isn’t lost on Gawlik. 

“I think that Austyn made a gutsy decision,” Gawlik said. “I think she stood up to a moment and said, ‘I’m going to fight to try to do whatever I can because I want to make sure that my career ends on my terms.’ And for her to fight back and be cleared in our gym was even something two years ago or a year ago I don’t know that any of us thought was going to certainty be the case.”

All though DeWesse wasn’t making her mark on the court during matches, she was making a mark in different ways. 

“She was leading our younger middle blockers even when she was out,” Gawlik said. “She has a voice and is coaching them and helping with the scouting report. Those are really selfless acts and I think her career stats and her career highs aren’t necessarily the things I will (remember) about her, but I’m impressed the most that she didn’t give up.” 

Elly Medendorp 

Along with DeWesse, Elly Medendorp spent all four years wearing maroon and gold as a middle blocker. 

She leaves CMU behind with 516 kills and 57 blocks in her four years. 

This season she killed a season-high 13 kills and scored 17 points (career high) all in one weekend against Toledo. In the win against NIU, she blocked six balls for a season-high. 

“The thing that I’m going to remember about Elly is she is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached,” Gawlik said. “If you could see the kind of player Elly was four years ago, also a hard worker but she worked her way into a major role for our program. She’s a workhorse and you know you’re going to get 100% from Elly.”

Medendorp isn’t a named captain for the Chippewas, but she still manages to set an example for the team and be a leader in her own way. 

“She doesn’t sugarcoat things,” Gawlik said. “And I appreciate that about her, I’m not sure that’s always appreciated by everybody, but I think it takes guts to do that. She’s a leader without being a captain, she’s helped set the tone for us.”

Another aspect of Medendorp’s game that Gawlik admires and will remember is the competitiveness she has. 

“I know that she’s a fighter,” Gawlik said. “I know she’s going to go for it. She’s got this direct competitor in her that came out as a junior. She goes into a super competitive mode, unlike a lot of people. I love that because I love her intensity. If there’s a volleyball game, I want Elly Mendendorp on my team.”

Gawlik believes the four seniors have left the program in a good spot and wishes them the best of luck. 

“I’m bummed,” Gawlik said. “I’m bummed because I like them as humans. They’re good humans. All four of them are good humans and I’m excited to see what they do in the real world with their jobs. They will go out and do very unique things.”