GENEVA, Ohio - For the first time in Central Michigan volleyball history, the Chippewas have won the Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship by defeating Northern Illinois, 3-2 (25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 23-25, 15-11), on Sunday. With the win, CMU will receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Not only did the Chippewas (18-12, 8-8) win their first MAC Tournament championship but they did so in a year in which the conference that is ranked seventh in the country, the highest it has ever been ranked. It is also the first time since 1982 that CMU has made it to the championship match, and the first time in program history it has defeated five teams with higher RPI rankings. The win over the Huskies (27-6, 14-2) is the highest RPI win in program history, as NIU was ranked 16th. CMU finished the MAC Tournament with a 9-2 set record.
"This is so great for our team and program," said head coach Erik Olson. "I felt like we were over-thinking our serve receive in sets three and four, so come the fifth set there wasn't much coaching going on, I let the team make the adjustments. Every time we came together in a huddle I kept hearing them say ‘this is our match, we got this.' They had one thing on their mind and they wanted it so bad to come this close and not let it go. They were determined. We have talked all season about coming together and playing as one team, one unit, and this weekend we did that."
Knotted at seven in the fifth set, the Chippewas would go on a 3-0 run due to two errors from the Huskies. Val DeWeerd slammed two kills down and the Maroon and Gold clung to a 12-9 lead. Senior Kaitlyn Schultz grabbed the 13th point with a kill, but it was the swing of the freshman, Kaitlyn McIntyre, who recorded the final two points and handed CMU the final set 15-11.
The first set saw CMU race out on a 6-0 run behind back-to-back kills from junior Lindsey Dulude. Sophomore Danielle Gotham doubled up NIU when she recorded a kill, and the lead was 12-6. The Huskies would fight back and close the gap to 15-13, but sophomore Kelly Maxwell got her offense going. Two kills by McIntyre along with Maxwell gave the Chippewas a 22-18 lead. Schultz would hammer home the final point and CMU grabbed the first set 25-21.
Dulude had her team going again in the second set as she recorded back-to-back kills to give the Chippewas a 7-6 early lead. The CMU frontline of Dulude, Schultz and McIntyre all recorded kills pushing the lead out to 12-8. The offense kept it going with six different Chippewas scoring as set two finished 25-22 in CMU's favor.
Maxwell recorded an ace to begin the third set and once again the Maroon and Gold were out early 5-2. Two more kills from Dulude along with a few Huskie errors allowed CMU to build a 13-9 lead, but an 9-4 spurt gave NIU an 18-17 lead in an eventual 25-21 set-three win for the Huskies.
The fourth set saw the Huskies take charge and jump out to a 6-2 lead. Following a CMU timeout, Schultz recorded two kills and the lead was cut to 8-6. Maxwell and Dulude each recorded kills as the Chippewas grabbed a 17-14 lead, but the Huskies were not ready to go away, as they ended the set on a 6-1 run and claimed set four 25-23.
The Chippewas finished the match hitting .321 while holding NIU to only .216. They also out-blocked the Huskies 13-6 while recorded 10 more digs.
McIntyre led the CMU offense with 19 kills hitting a season high .385. Schultz chipped in with 15 kills, while Dulude added 14 and Gotham with 12. Maxwell fed the hitters with 59 assists, while sophomore Jenna Coates held the back line recording a match-high 22 digs. Schultz and Maxwell were both named to the All-Tournament Team, while Shultz earned Tournament MVP.
The Chippewas take a trip out west to compete against Long Beach State on Friday, Nov. 25 and UC-Irvine on Saturday, Nov. 26. They will then await their NCAA destination, which will be decided on Sunday Nov. 27th at 6 p.m.