For the second straight season, Ferris found themselves hoisting the GLIAC tournament trophy after defeating rival Grand Valley 3-2 in a championship classic.
The Bulldogs initially won the first two sets of the match 25-16 and 25-23, thanks to an efficient offensive attack. While Grand Valley made defensive adjustments and eventually tied the match 2-2 after 25-20 and 25-17 wins in set three and four, respectively, it was the Bulldogs that clinched the title after outlasting the Lakers’ in the fifth and final set.
“In my perfect world, we would have put that bad boy away a little sooner,” head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm said. “We gave up the run and pulled ourselves back into the match. You have to be proud of that.”
Ferris was led in the match individually by Hannah Tecumseh with 18.5 points on 14 kills, who replaced Emma Bleecher following a first set injury. Olivia Henneman-Dallape registered 16 kills and 17 points, while Claire Nowicki added 13 kills for 16 points. Leah Bylut added 30 digs, and GLIAC Tournament MVP Kaylee Maat recorded 50 assists. Syann Fairfield led the Bulldogs with four block assists.
“We lost a starter in the first set,” Brandel-Wilhelm said. “I was really excited [with] how the team responded to that. [Tecumseh] did fabulous, and the whole team rallied around it.”
With the victory, the Bulldogs claimed both the GLIAC regular season and the GLIAC tournament title for the seventh time since 2014. Ferris also earned an automatic berth to the NCAA DII National Tournament, where they were selected as the number three seed in the Midwest bracket.
To reach the title game, Ferris fended off a tough matchup with number five seeded Michigan Tech in the semifinal 3-1 on Friday. The Bulldogs used an elite defensive effort to rally back and win three consecutive sets after losing the opener. Ferris held the Huskies to a .206 hit percentage over the final three frames, as opposed to a .469 effort in the first. Following the match, Brandel-Wilhelm gave credit to the Huskies’ offensive attack for causing the slow start.
“I thought Michigan Tech played so well,” Brandel-Wilhelm said. “Their offense was great, and it took us a long time to find any rhythm.”
Fairfield led Ferris with 23.5 points individually with 16 kills and nine block assists. Nowicki finished the semifinal with 18.5 points on 17 kills, followed by Henneman-Dallape and Bleecher with nine points each. Maat added 51 assists in the contest, and Bylut paced with 20 digs for the Bulldogs.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinal match, Ferris added their third win on the season against Lake Superior State with a 3-0 win over the Lakers. The Bulldogs used a tournament high of 2.67 service aces per set in the contest with a tournament low two reception errors to pass by the eight-seeded Lakers on Wednesday night.
Bleecher led Ferris with a breakout performance of 15.5 points individually on 14 kills, followed by Henneman-Dallape with nine points and Fairfield with 7.5. Maat collected 29 assists and 11 digs with Bylut adding 11 digs and Fairfield finished with three block assists.
“I think Lake State did a great job of throwing us out of system and giving us a lot of junk,” Bleecher said. “In the beginning, we weren’t talking as much, but we started implementing that, and it was better.”
Ferris notched their ninth GLIAC tournament championship in program history, leading Grand Valley by three for most in the conference. The Bulldogs also clinched their 10th consecutive 20-win season, excluding the shortened COVID season, under the leadership of Brandel-Wilhelm.
Ferris improved to 24-9 on the year and will return to action on Thursday, Nov. 17, in the opening quarterfinal match against the #6 seed Ashland Eagles, a team they beat twice a year ago in Big Rapids. The tournament will be hosted at Quincy University in East Peoria, Ill. Game time for the contest has yet to be announced.