NMU volleyball: Aggressive serves lead to Northern sweeps of Bemidji State, Minnesota-Crookston in Wildcat Open

MARQUETTE – Heading into the Superior Oasis Wildcat Open volleyball tournament, Northern Michigan University head coach Dominic Yoder projected Friday night’s opponent, Minnesota-Crookston, as the most likely candidate to challenge the Wildcats at Vandament Arena.

The Golden Eagles did just that, but they were only a challenge.

“They’re very athletic, they’re well coached, they play similar to us,” Yoder said about UMC. “They have a little bit different serve receive, but they play very similar to us. They play really aggressive.”

Crookston met the same fate as the Wildcats’ morning opponent, Bemidji (Minn.) State, despite pushing NMU to extra points in the third set.

The ‘Cats improved to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the tournament by sweeping the Eagles 25-17, 25-17, 27-25, just over 10 1/2 hours after wrapping up a three-set, 25-14, 25-11, 25-12 win over the Beavers in a 9 a.m. match.

Northern begins play today at 11 a.m. at Vandament Arena before wrapping up the tournament against Lake Superior State at 7 p.m.

“We need to bring the same energy that we have, the confidence in each other and loving to play the game,” NMU sophomore libero Alex Berger said about Day 2 of the tourney. “I think when we love to play is we do the best. And skills come with that, obviously.”

The Eagles’ match against the Wildcats wrapped up in an hour and 15 minutes, which was a mere nine minutes longer than the Beavers’ 9 a.m. bout with NMU because of the extended third set.

Crookston led 20-18 late in the third, but Berger served up a 4-0 run that included three kills by senior outside hitter Line Lopes to put NMU up, 22-20.

The Eagles were able to fight back, however, and even survive a Lopes serve on match point at 24-23 to stay alive.

NMU fell behind 25-24 after a kill by senior outside hitter Kalli Herron was overturned, but three straight Wildcat points off a Herron kill and back-to-back errors by Crookston sealed the match.

“They just kept serving us real aggressive,” Yoder said. “I’m really, really blessed to have a group of players that didn’t quit. They just kept fighting.”

The Wildcats were just as aggressive as Crookston on the serve in both matches, totaling 13 service aces against Bemidji and six against UMC.

Against the Beavers, Lopes posted five aces in the morning match while Berger and senior setter Kellisha Harley each recorded three. Against Crookston, all three finished with two aces each.

“You like to get a good serve. You like that ace. You like helping your team,” Berger said.

“Our dynamic is to try and hit the splits in between players, as well as deep serves in the corner. It really forces them out of system and makes sure the center really has to work to get the ball.

“It leaves them with one or two hitters every time. I think we successfully did that.”

Offensively, Herron led NMU with 12 kills against the Eagles with Lopes posting 11 and sophomore outside hitter Lisa Studnicka finishing with 10.

Defensively, Harley and Lopes shared the team-high of nine digs, while Berger had eight.

Harley totaled 34 assists against Crookston and 30 against Bemidji.

Lopes led the NMU with 12 kills against the Beavers, while Herron had eight. Defensively, Lopes and Berger shared the team-high of 10 digs vs. BSU.

Yoder said following the morning match, the win over the Beavers was key to getting over the jet lag from last weekend’s West Florida Invite.

“We were expecting Bemidji to come in – they had a really big team, good attacking team, good blocking,” Yoder said after the morning match. “We were prepared for them. We had a great day of practice (Thursday).

“The tough competition in Florida really helped us play well today. We’re just continuing to try to build upon that.”