By Seth J. Walker
Dearborn, Michigan- The University of Michigan-Dearborn hosted day one of the 2018 Early Bird Challenge, Friday, with three local teams from the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference taking part (Michigan-Dearborn, Madonna, and Lawrence Tech) along with five visiting teams (Columbia International, Goshen College, Mt. Vernon Nazarene, Point Park, and Spring Arbor). Each of the three local teams played two matches, with Michigan-Dearborn splitting it’s two matches while Madonna and Lawrence Tech each won both of theirs.
The Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines had strong showing for their first match, beating Columbia International in four sets (25-13, 25-14, 25-27, 25-14). Freshman middle blocker, Mackenzie Fuleky led the Wolverines with 10 kills, while senior libero, Caitlyn Carlson had a team-high 18 digs.
The Wolverines lost their second game to Goshen in three sets (17-25, 17-25, 15-25). Junior outside hitter/opposite side hitter, Bronte Michura had a team-high 13 digs.
The #20 Madonna Crusaders swept Spring Arbor in their first match (25-14, 25-21, 25-17). senior outside hitter, Taylor Suurmeyer and junior middle hitter, Erica LaBaere each had 10 kills while senior setter, Lauren Korth recorded 29 assists and 11 digs.
LaBaera is in her first year at Madonna after transferring from St. Claire Community College. The Romeo, Michigan native joins a Crusader team with two other players from her hometown, Korth and sophomore outside hitter, Jodie Kelly.
“It’s really nice because it helps me feel more at home knowing I’ve played with them before,” Labaere said. “Lauren set me, all of high school. We were on the same team. We were both on varsity all four years.”
In their second game, the Crusaders swept Mt. Vernon Nazarene (30-28, 25-18, 25-19). Labaere and Suurmeyer once again provide the offensive one-two punch with 16 and 12 kills, respectively. Kelly had an all-around performance with 11 kills and 10 digs. Korth had 43 assists and 11 digs.
“I’d say we’re definitely off to a great start,” Suurmeyer said. “We’re undefeated so far, so 3-0. We’re definitely on the ups. We’re starting to get more and more comfortable as a team.”
The Lawrence Tech Blue Devils beat Goshen in three sets (25-21, 25-10, 25-17) in their first match. Senior middle hitter, Brittany Schmidt had 11 kills, while junior middle hitter, Zakia Hunt had 10. Junior setter Kristi Doherty led the Blue Devils with 32 assists.
“She’s like our quarterback for our team,” Hunt said. “She’s the backbone for everyone, everyone has confidence in her, and she has confidence in her hitters.”
Freshman libero, Alysha Vipushan added 16 digs.
The Blue Devils then beat Point Park in four sets (26-24, 22-25, 25-23, 25-13). Hunt led the team with 15 kills while junior opposite side hitter, Varvara Gromakova had 11. Senior libero, Lexi Szymoniak’s 22 digs led the team while Doherty added 16 to go along with her 29 assists. The Blue Devils are off to a 2-0 start
“I think that we can only go up,” sophomore outside hitter, Isabella McDonald said. “We’ve been putting in so much hard work, so many hours in the gym, and it’s different than last year. We have a different culture and we’re all closer. There’s just a different energy.”