HOUGHTON - There were a lot of smiles down the stretch, from setter Madeline Haben on down the Michigan Tech volleyball line-up, and for good reason.
The Huskies snapped a three-match losing streak and pulled their conference record back up to .500 by overcoming Walsh 3-1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-17, 25-17).
The 3-1 win came on the heels of three consecutive 3-1 losses to Northern Michigan, Findlay and Wayne State.
Michigan Tech’s Kendall Ward attacks during Friday’s match against Walsh at the SDC?Gym. She had 15 kills in Tech’s 3-1 victory.
"We haven't been playing bad," Haben said. "But you don't get a stat for not playing bad."
Haben set the tone immediately. She tricked the Cavaliers with her signature dump set to win the first point of the match, then wound up and swung away for a forceful (and for the 5-foot-6 senior, unusual) kill on the next point.
"If I see an opportunity, I'm going to take it. It tends to free up our pins (the outside of the court), which is really key," Haben said.
She finished with seven kills and no errors attacking, and dished out 47 assists, setting up freshman Kendall Ward and junior Shelby Jones for 15 kills apiece.
"I thought tonight was her best night setting of the season. The balls that were going to the outsides were as consistently hittable as they've been in a long time," Husky coach Matt Jennings said.
Tech's .245 hitting percentage for the match is its best of the season thus far and the best it's achieved in a conference match under Jennings.
Though Haben's two kills gave Tech an early lead, neither side strung more than three points together in the first set. Only after Tech took a 23-16 lead on a Walsh attack error could they consider the set in their column despite 16 kills and an impressive .375 hitting percentage.
Kienna Sharp served two aces as Tech opened the second on a 4-0 run, but went one-and-done on their next seven rotations, leading to a 19-11 deficit.
The Huskies rattled off six in a row on Aubrey Ficek's serve, including an ace and three Jones kills, but got only as close as 19-17 before the set slipped away amidst 11 hitting errors and a .000 percentage (equal number of kills and errors).
"We lost focus and we were not efficient in our thoughts and our actions," Jennings said.
Tech snapped out of it for good by midway through the third set, running off six in a row for a 14-10 lead. Jones had an ace and a back-row kill, while Ward rattled off three kills.
"Kendall was ripping the line. They weren't blocking it, so we just kept going there," Haben said. "Shelby's a shot master. She sees a seam and she'll take it."
Tech got a sideout from six straight Walsh serves and built its lead to 24-15 before winning it on a Walsh hitting error.
The fourth was over nearly before it began. Sharp threw in a pair of aces on Tech's second rotation for a five-point run, then added four more on the next rotation for a 10-2 lead. Walsh got to within 12-8, but no closer.
Tech tinkered with its defense to improve its GLIAC-worst blocks per set total.
Though the Huskies got only three block kills for the match, Jennings believed his team made improvements in slowing down Cavalier attackers.
"Blocking is less than half about getting points. It's about taking away space and getting touches at the net so your back row can make a play," he said.
Libero Jackie Aird was one of three Huskies with double-digit digs, posting a team-high 12. Haben and Rachel Pohlod had 11 apiece.
Tech, now 4-4 in GLIAC play and 9-7 overall, is a game behind the top eight. Today's home match with Malone will mark the midpoint of the 18-match league schedule.
"We want to secure a spot in the GLIAC Tournament and this is how you do it," Jennings said.