Men's Club Volleyball Travels to Illinois for Hoosier-Illini Classic
Men's Volleyball (D1 & D3) - Tue, Mar. 1, 2016
Bloomington, IN - The Grand Valley State Laker Men's Club Volleyball team overcame tremendous adversity to finish tied for fifth place with a 3-3 record this past weekend at the 2016 Hoosier-Illini Classic hosted by Indiana University. The event, regarded as one of the largest and most competitive regular season tournaments in the country, in its 15th year, featured ten teams ranked in the top-25 of the latest NCVF Men's Division I national poll.
Testing out a different format this year, the 24-team tournament was initially organized in eight pools of three, which would then be reseeded into six pools of four to determine final seeding into gold, silver, bronze, and copper brackets. GVSU, starting the tournament as the 15-seed. Of the 24 teams in attendance, GVSU was the only non-NCAA Division I school in the gold, silver, or bronze brackets.
The Lakers (12-5), making the trip without standout junior middle blocker, Clay Hermann, due to illness and whose status is undetermined following a knee injury, had Louisville up first on Saturday morning, easily taking down the Cardinals in two (25-9, 26-24), in a match that saw contributions from every member on the roster.
Next up was the second-ranked team in the nation, the Hokies of Virginia Tech. The Lakers fell in the first set, 18-25, but rebounded in the second, 25-21, tying the match and setting up a decisive third set. With strong serving and disciplined net play from middle blocking duo Xavier Remmo and Jake Bouwman, the Lakers went up 8-5 at the side-change, and again at 10-7, forcing two Hokie timeouts. Out of the timeout, senior setter Joey Martin landed on a Hokie player on the center line, and was carried off the floor with an ankle injury. Virginia Tech capitalized on a setter-less GVSU and won 8 of the last 9 points, winning the match 2-1, 15-11 in the third. Virginia Tech went on to win the 2016 Hoosier-Illini Classic.
The results from the first round of pool play were compiled and teams were reseeded into power pools. GVSU drew Illinois State, Miami (FL), and DePaul next. With no backup setter on the roster, the Lakers were forced to move senior libero Brett Michaud to the setting position and junior Joey Cha took over libero duties. Readjusting to the new lineup, new roles, and new expectations would have been enough of a hurdle, but too many unforced errors plagued the team, and the Lakers fell to Miami (FL) in two sets (22-25, 21-25) to start the second round. More changes to the lineup were made, with Coach Pelc moving junior André Bonneville to libero and expanding senior outside hitter Brad Cordes' role to six rotations, for the next match against the Blue Demons of DePaul University. The lineup changes seemed to be working, as the Lakers took the first set from a very athletic DePaul squad, 25-18, but more unforced errors and communication issues allowed the Demons to even up the match with a 25-20 over the Lakers in the second set. But, Michaud was able to get his first win as a setter, winning the match 15-12 in the third.
Power pool play would resume again on Sunday morning, with the Lakers taking on Illinois State to determine their fate. A very slow start and poor performances from key players saw the Cardinals hand the Lakers their worst set defeat of the season, 25-11. The group responded to start the second, going up 3-0 on the serve of senior outside hitter Marcus Johns. Serving proved to be the difference in that set as a huge 7-0 serving run from sophomore Tanner Rubin was pivotal in taking the second set from the Cardinals, 25-25. The third set was a dogfight - battling back and forth, long rallies, great defense - until the Lakers took a 14-12 lead and used a Johns kill to secure the victory over Illinois State, 15-13 in the third, finishing power pool with a 2-1 record and earning a berth in the tournament's eight-team gold bracket as the only NCAA Division II school, along with Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State, Marquette, Purdue, the Air Force Academy, and Virginia Tech.
The Lakers drew another top-25 team for the first gold bracket match, #17 University of Illinois. Experience and consistency from the Illini proved to be too much for the Lakers to overcome in this match, though each set saw ties at 13-13 before a strong Illinois squad was able to pull away (18-25, 15-25). The Lakers finished T-5th overall.
"I will be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect after Joey went down," Coach Jeffrey Pelc said. "We've spent a lot of time with Joey, not only improving his technical skill and decision-making, but as a leader. Losing your leader at the beginning of a big tournament is huge, and it requires others to abruptly step up and shoulder more responsibility. That isn't easy. One of the things that this group has been working to improve over the course of the season is their response to adversity, to uncomfortable situations, and I couldn't be more proud of how they chose to respond to the hand they were dealt. It would've been very easy to give up, to whine about things you can't control, but this team said no. These athletes embraced their situation and did what the group needed them to do to be successful."
The biggest change was moving senior libero Brett Michaud, one of the best in the region and a shoe-in for post-season recognition, to the setting position. "Kid's one hell of an athlete. He's literally had zero reps or experience running an offense, no experience this season blocking, no experience setting our middles, no experience with our rotations. His ability to do what he did was nothing short of incredible, and that cannot be overstated. I am so unbelievably impressed by him, and so are his teammates," Coach Pelc said. "We don't have a backup setter on the roster, so Joey's injury was our actual worst-case scenario. We've joked about training Brett as a setter because of his natural skill and athleticism, but joking about it and doing it are two completely different things. He did this against some of the best competition in the country. It's absolutely incredible."
"While a 3-3 record and a fifth place finish might not particularly impressive on paper, when you factor in the significant details and the resiliency that it took to earn those three wins, I think you see a weekend to be proud of," said Coach Pelc. "After losing Joey, we didn't start a single player who had ever played the sport before arriving on campus. One of our players actually just started playing the game in October. That speaks volumes about their work ethic and commitment. I'm very honored to lead this group forward toward our goals of winning our conference and a national championship."
GVSU travels this weekend to Bowling Green State University for the Great Midwest Men's Volleyball Conference (GMMVC) Championships on March 5-6.