UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. – The Saginaw Valley State University volleyball team will open the 2021 winter season with a home match against rival Northwood University at 7 pm Friday at Hamilton Gymnasium.
SVSU enters the season with a core of experienced student-athletes set to lead the next wave of Cardinals through a conference-only slate of games in 2021. Earlier this month, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference coaches picked SVSU to finish fourth in the North Division.
"We are using this shortened Winter season as an opportunity to develop our offensive system and integrate some of our younger players," SVSU Head Coach Will Stanton. "Our expectation is just getting better every day and see how good we can become. We feel that we can be one of the top teams in the Conference once we get settled into our system and develop some of our younger players."
The Cardinals finished fourth overall and third in the North Division of the GLIAC in 2019, earning a bid to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional, where the team fell in the quarterfinals.
With several key contributors gone from the 2019 squad, Stanton will turn to his core of returners to guide a young team in 2021. Senior Emily Friesl returns after being named the GLIAC Blocker of the Year in 2019. The Byron Center, Mich., native was second on the team in kills per set in her junior season.
Maria Vukaj also figures to play a key role on the front line for the Cardinals. The junior from Davison, Mich., was second on the team in total kills in 2019. Peyton Gerstacker, from Midland, Mich., is ready to switch to the setter position for the Cardinals as a junior. She recorded 209 digs in 29 matches for SVSU in 2019.
Stanton noted the progress made by senior Haley Clum. The 6-1 middle hitter from Grosse Ile, Mich., figures to be a key contributor at the net for the Cardinals this season. In 2019, she played in 24 matches, recording 129 kills and 63 total blocks.
"We see Maria and Emily returning as two of our offensive leaders," Stanton said. "Haley Clum has made some great progress in the middle and could be a big factor in our attacking and blocking. We have a new setter running the offense in Peyton Gerstacker, and she is becoming a very good leader and a court general for us."
SVSU will need contributions from some of their newcomers, including freshman Kelsey Vittitow at the Libero position, while freshman Taylor Wegener is working her way into a role with the team at outside hitter.
"Kelsey has really made an impact on our ball control side and looks to be the Libero at this time," Stanton said. "That is a big role for a young player, and she has come a long way so far this year. Taylor is making some great strides in her ball control and attacking and is on the verge of being a big contributor as well."
The Cardinal schedule is shortened for the spring season and will include only conference games, played in two-game weekend series formats starting Friday and running through April 3. Following the matchups with Northwood this weekend, SVSU hits the road for the first time to take on Northern Michigan University Feb. 26-27.
The home schedule includes two games against Northwood, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan Tech, while Lake Superior State University will play one match at Hamilton as a part of a home and home series with the Cardinals. The final four matches of the regular season will take place on the road leading up to the GLIAC Tournament April 9-10.
"I have been impressed with this team's ability to navigate the craziness that has surrounded all of us," Stanton said. "They have been one of the hardest working groups we have had during a time when it can be hard to stay focused. We have had so many ups and downs, and they just keep working harder and harder. I think they appreciate this opportunity to play and really want to make the most of it."