Tech volleyball falls to Malone in fifth set

HOUGHTON – It was a five-set fistfight, one that left Michigan Tech coach Matt Jennings with his shirt untucked and his tie on the ground, but Saturday, the Huskies ran out of swings.

Malone got out of the SDC Gym with a 3-2 (25-19, 15-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-8) win despite an eye-popping offensive match from Tech freshman Kendall Ward.

“The reason they succeeded in the fifth set is because they were better than us in the first set,” Jennings said. “We were playing catch-up from the start and when we got to the fifth, we were a little bit emotionally checked out.”

Ward racked up 24 kills and only two errors on 47 attempts for a stupendous hitting percentage of .512, all for naught.

Before Friday’s win over Walsh, Jennings said fans were starting to see what he saw when he recruited the 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Naperville, Ill.

“From the first day I saw Kendall Ward play, I knew what a good fit she’d be here and how dominant she’d be for us,” he said Saturday.

Malone entered on a six-match losing streak and had lost the first set in every one of their nine defeats this season.

The Huskies saw the slow-starting Pioneers and raised them an even slower one, with only six kills against five errors and surrendering 16 Malone kills.

Tech recovered nicely to control most of the second set but dropped the third.

Tied at 18, Malone ran off four points with the help of three kills. Tech rallied, getting consecutive kills from Sylvie Rokosh followed by a block from the same source after an improbable diving save from setter Madeline Haben, but a Pioneer kill and a Tech attack error killed the rally and ended the set.

Tech appeared close to the edge after losing seven of the first eight points in the fourth, but battled back to tie it at 14, then busted a 20-20 tie with a Ward kill. Kienna Sharp threw in an ace on the next ball, Malone made an error and Ward blasted the Huskies into a fifth set with two more kills.

Ward kills accounted for Tech’s first three points in the decider, but all were from Malone serves. Tech tied it at 5, only to lose the next three points on a Pioneer kill, a Husky error and a Pioneer ace.

Tech, behind 12-8, may have passed the point of no return when Rokosh dispatched a middle attack to the floor, only for the official to hand the point to the Pioneers, ruling that the sophomore caught and threw the ball down illegally. The judgement call made Jennings irate, and losing match point when Haben was ruled to have interfered with a Pioneer under the net while landing did nothing to improve his mood.

Still, those were just two points of exactly 100 the Pioneers won, as opposed to the 50 they won on kills while hitting .220.

“Our backcourt was not consistent,” Jennings said, noting there was not improvement from the night before, in which Walsh hit .122.

The defeat puts the Huskies at 4-5 in GLIAC play (7-11 overall) at the halfway point of the league schedule. Tech gets few favors down the stretch. Seven of its remaining nine league matches are on the road (including trips to Northwood and Hillsdale, the last two league champions), and the only home datesxn are against nationally-ranked Ferris State and Grand Valley.

“We’re going to have a stark choice to make, whether to go up or down,” Jennings said.

Freshman Aubrey Ficek added 16 kills and hit .297 for the Huskies, who are at Tiffin and Ohio Dominican next weekend. Haben posted 51 assists.

Tech’s defensive leaders were Jacqueline Aird and Rachel Pohlod, who had 15 digs apiece.