MOUNT PLEASANT - The Central Michigan volleyball team earned its sixth winning season in the last nine campaigns and the future looks bright after an up and down season in 2012.
The Chippewas got off to a hot 6-2 start in Mid-American Conference play, but a rare five-match road swing midway through the conference season was too much to recover from down the stretch.
After dropping their conference opener to Northern Illinois, the Maroon and Gold reeled off six-straight wins starting with a 3-1 victory over preseason favorite and rival Western Michigan. CMU continued its roll through by earning sweeps over Eastern Michigan and Kent State before key road victories at Kent State and Ball State.
Unfortunately, the momentum swung from the Chippewas as they dropped a five-set match with eventual MAC champ Bowling Green and saw their losing streak extend to six matches as they were unable to pull out a victory during their five-match road trip.
"We did a really good job in the first half of the regular season, but unfortunately got in a rough patch during that five-match road trip," head coach Erik Olson said. "It was our turn to have that rare road swing, but then we ended on a really good note. We have to do a better job of being consistent against those east division teams we only play once."
The Chippewas did just that in finishing on a high note, ending the skid with a win over Ohio in a thrilling five-match set to clinch a spot in the MAC Tournament. Senior Lindsey Dulude became the 15th player in program history to go over 1,000 kills in the match, leading the Chippewas with 15 kills in the contest.
The momentum continued with a sweep of Toledo and a five-match victory over Ball State to give the Maroon and Gold a 9-7 record in MAC play.
"We played some really good ball in beating Ohio and that was a huge turning point for our season," Olson said. "It showed a lot of character that our team had to get back on track. I think it took a lot out of us however and forced us to peak a tad early."
The Chippewas entered the MAC Tournament as the No. 6 seed for the second-straight season, but were unable to recreate their magic that led them to a MAC Tournament title in 2011. CMU lost its opening contest to the Broncos in four sets.
Highlighting the 2012 campaign was the play of four individual All-MAC selections in juniors Jenna Coates (first team) and Kelly Maxwell (second team), sophomore Kaitlyn McIntyre (first team) and freshman Angelique White (all freshmen).
Maxwell led the offense by finishing the season ranked first in the MAC and 11th in the country with 11.63 assists per set, while her junior counterpart Coates dominated the defensive side of the net with a digs per set average of 4.88 and four MAC West Defensive Player of the Week awards.
"We certainly have the ability to do some great things next year and we are very optimistic about the future," Olson said. "The key is going to be becoming more efficient in all phases. Our attacking percentage is something we have to improve on, as is our blocking."
In addition to the four returning All-MAC selections, the Chippewas will also return a pair of fifth-year seniors next season in middle blocker Danielle Gotham and outside hitter Katie Schuette. Junior Hallie Enderle, who emerged as a force in the middle and the outside late in the season, will also return as an offensive weapon for the Chippewas next year.
CMU will look to replace the production left behind from graduating seniors Dulude, Val DeWeerd, Jocelyn VerVelde and Samantha Brawley, all four of which were key in leading CMU to their first MAC title in program history a year ago and were staples in the lineup in 2012.
"All four of those players were instrumental in helping us get this program to another level," Olson said. "Lindsey was a four-year starter, Val was a three-year starter, Jocelyn was huge in huge moments in her three seasons and Sam was a walk-on that turned into a two-year starter and won our spirit award three times."
The Chippewas will welcome a freshman class of four in 2013, one of which has already joined the program in Taylor Robertson. The Midland, Mich., native enrolled to Central Michigan and will participate in spring practice.