As the regular season came to an end last week, both the Ferris State and Grand Valley State’s volleyball teams stood atop the GLIAC with a 17-1 record in conference. The Bulldogs are not far removed from a share of the Conference Championship, as they split it with Hillsdale back in 2011.
FSU and GVSU’s only conference losses came at the hands of each other on the road. In both cases it was a close battle to the end of the match, and if both teams continue to play as well as they have, they are likely to clash once again in the GLIAC Tournament.
“It’s sort of inevitable that we will meet up either in the conference tournament or in regionals, so we know that it’s bound to happen. Both teams are having great seasons and have so much drive to push deep into the postseason. If we meet up it’ll be another point-for-point battle and the best team that night will walk away with the win,” junior middle hitter Caroline Heitzman said.
Grand Valley also stood atop the conference last year, as the Bulldogs were forced to settle for second place in the GLIAC.
“Every team that I’ve been a member of has had such strong and focused leaders, and this year is no exception. One of the biggest strengths that this year’s team possesses is our versatility,” Heitzman said. “Every player on the court can run any type of play and execute it well. We also have grown up quite a bit from last season.”
This maturation did not just come with age, but through recent experience in the NCAA Tournament last season, in which they advanced all the way to the Elite Eight before losing a close game to BYU-Hawaii that sent them home.
“I think that experiencing the Elite Eight was really eye-opening for us. We had the ambition to go that far, but I don’t think we realized how attainable it all actually was until we were only a few games away from a National Championship,” Heitzman said. “Returning the versatility and making the realization that we are at the caliber of a National Championship team is such a huge strength for us. We know what business we want to accomplish and how to take care of it.”
With a 20-5 overall record, it is clear that the team had some trouble against unfamiliar competition in both the Tampa Invitational and the GLIAC/GLVC Crossover Tournaments. Between the two tournaments, the Bulldogs went just 3-4, which is a far cry from their typical winning percentage this year.
“In the preseason tournament in Florida, we were just starting out with our new lineup so we had some kinks to work out. We definitely competed with two top teams in the nation, so it was still a promising start amidst the losses,” Heitzman said.
The Bulldogs fell victim to their unusual surroundings in the second tournament, which accounts for their losses there. Thankfully, the adjustments seem to have been made at this point.
“The GLIAC/GLVA crossover was a little overwhelming for us at the start. It’s the biggest collegiate volleyball tournament in the country with eight courts going at one time, so you can imagine the atmosphere,” Heitzman said. “The inability to hear yourself speak let alone your teammates threw us off a bit. We really thrive on communication, during and after play, so due to that challenge we struggled a bit there.”
These tournament struggles are unlikely to follow the Bulldogs into the GLIAC Tournament, as they will be playing at home and have had sufficient time throughout the season to gel on the court.
The Bulldogs will take on the Hillsdale Chargers to kickoff the GLIAC Tournament. Earlier this year when the two teams met, Ferris took the match 3-1. The quarterfinals match is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in Ewigleben Sports Arena.