The University of Michigan-Dearborn volleyball team started their 2019 season with five games this past week. The Wolverines looked to get their season off to a solid start and improve upon last season’s record that saw them go 5-24.
Coach Eric Stark returns for his sixth season as head coach. He leads a young Wolverine squad that has six freshmen, but also features seniors Bronte Michura and Daniella Barile, both gearing up for big performances this year.
For the season debut, UM-Dearborn traveled to Spring Arbor University on Wednesday to take on the Cougars in a non-conference matchup.
The first set was hotly contested with the Cougars holding a slim 8-7 lead. Spring Arbor then went on an 8-0 run to take control and win the opening set 25-13.
The Wolverines again fell behind early in the second set by a score of 9-3 and found themselves down 19-14 late. The Maize and Blue then rallied to cut the Cougar lead down to just 22-20. The comeback stopped there, however, and Spring Arbor senior Sydney Ritz scored two of the final three points to help the Cougars take the second set 25-20.
The third set was dominated by the Cougars as they won 25-11 to sweep the Wolverines 3-0 and handed them their first loss of the season.
Despite the sweep, there were some positive takeaways and outstanding performances by UM-Dearborn. Freshman Delaney Smith led the team with 10 digs in her first career match. Junior Sabrina Giacomini, Freshman Mallory Lynch, and Michura all finished with a team-high six kills. Barile also contributed 11 assists.
Spring Arbor was led by the double-double performance of Ritz, who had 10 kills and 10 digs. The Cougars also had an impressive eight aces as a team and never trailed in any of the three sets.
The Wolverines returned home to play four games in the Early Bird Challenge at the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse. The first two games were on Friday against the Pioneers of Point Park University and the Rams of Bluefield College.
The opening set of the first match against the Pioneers was tight with the score being tied at 10 early on. Point Park was able to gain an 18-13 lead and maintained the five-point advantage the rest of the way to win the set 25-20.
The second set was much like the first for the Wolverines as they managed to tie the score at both seven and ten before the Pioneers again pulled away to a 19-12 advantage. UM-Dearborn rallied and cut the score to just 20-17, but Point Park scored the final five points to win 25-17.
The Wolverines came out determined in the third set, jumping out to a 12-6 lead. The Pioneers came roaring back and went on a 10-2 run to take a 16-14 advantage. The Wolverines regained the lead 19-18, but Point Park rallied again to score seven of the final nine points to win 25-21 handing the Wolverines their second consecutive sweep.
The loss was especially heartbreaking for the Wolverines as they had opportunities to win in all three sets, but fell short each time. Led by Michura, who had eight kills, and Sabrina Giacomini, who finished with 13 assists and 12 digs. Smith also contributed 12 digs. Senior Haley English led the Pioneers with 11 kills and 16 digs.
Later in the day, UM-Dearborn got another chance to win their first match of the season against Bluefield.
Motivated by back to back sweeps, the Wolverines dominated the entire opening set, winning 25-13. Bluefield got themselves going in the second set and opened up to a 4-1 lead before UM-Dearborn rebounded to tie the score at six.
Although the Wolverines were able to keep the score relatively close, the Rams controlled the remainder of the set to win 25-16 and tie the score at one.
In a critical third set, Bluefield got off to another hot start and took a 12-5 advantage. The Wolverines managed to cut the score down to just 23-21, but the Rams held on to win 25-21 and needed just one more victory to take the match.
UM-Dearborn would not back down, however. In the fourth and seemingly final set, the teams battled early on before the Wolverines took control to earn a dominating 25-15 victory and force a decisive fifth set.
The opening of the final set went back and forth as the score remained tied at nine. The Wolverines pulled out a clutch performance to earn their first victory of the season 3-2, winning the last set 15-12.
After back-to-back sweeps to open the year, the Wolverines showed a lot of grit and determination to earn a tough 3-2 victory over the Rams. UM-Dearborn was led by Michura’s 14 kills and Smith’s 29 digs. Barile finished with 18 assists and 15 digs, while Sabrina Giacomini also contributed 22 assists and 15 digs. Junior Gina Giacomini added eight kills.
The Rams were led by freshman Leslie Flores, who had 10 kills, and freshman Claire Fingerlin, who finished with 31 digs.
The Wolverines continued play in the Early Bird Challenge on Saturday with a contest against the Maple Leafs of Goshen College and another against the Cincinnati Christian University Eagles.
The first match against the Maple Leafs was a hard fought match between both teams as all four sets came down to the very end. In the opening set, the teams went back and forth before Goshen pulled away to a 20-10 advantage. The Wolverines then went on an incredible 9-1 run to cut the deficit to just 21-19. The Maple Leafs maintained their composure, however, and scored the next four points to take the set 25-19.
The entirety of the next set was close as neither team led by more than three points. After Goshen gained a 23-21 lead, UM-Dearborn refused to lose and scored the final four points to win the set 25-23 and tie the match at one set a piece.
The beginning of the third set was just as close as the previous two with both teams trading the lead back and forth. The Maple Leafs were able to build a slim five-point lead at 18-13 and maintained the scoring margin the rest of the way to win 25-20 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
The crucial fourth set mirrored the previous set.
The score remained close early on before Goshen built an 11-6 lead and then a 21-13 lead. UM-Dearborn was able to rally and cut the deficit to just 21-17, but the Maple Leafs closed out the set at 25-19 to earn a 3-1 match victory.
Although the Wolverines suffered another heartbreaking defeat, they could be proud of the effort they showed and how they had a chance to win each set. The team was led by Sabrina Giacomini with 10 kills and 19 assists, and Lynch, who finished with 10 kills and 10 digs. Barile also recorded 17 assists and 15 digs.
Sophomore Haylee Pennington led the Maple Leafs with 12 kills, while junior Tessa Clark added 25 digs.
In their final match of the Early Bird Challenge, the Wolverines faced off against Cincinnati Christian University. This match against the Eagles went a lot differently than UM-Dearborn’s greatly contested game against Goshen College. The Eagles came out strong and never allowed the Wolverines to establish any sort of rhythm.
After the beginning of the opening set remained close, Cincinnati Christian pulled away to win 25-14. The Wolverines were again able to keep things relatively close to open the second set, but the Eagles were able to dominate the end of the set, ultimately winning 25-18. The final set was all Cincinnati Christian as they defeated UM-Dearborn 25-8 to hand the Wolverines their third sweep of the season.
UM-Dearborn was led by Gina Giacomini and Freshman Regan Sliwinski, who each finished with four kills. Michura was also named to the All-Tournament Team for her efforts throughout the Early Bird Challenge.
Junior Brianna Howard had 13 digs and senior Rebecca Paden had 11 kills to lead the Eagles.
After the opening week, the Wolverines sit with a record of 1-4. The team will head to Johnson City, Tennessee for the Milligan Mountain Madness Tournament hosted by Milligan College. The team is scheduled to play on both Friday and Saturday.