By Seth J. Walker
Rochester, Michigan- The Oakland Golden Grizzlies beat the Toledo Rockets Saturday afternoon in their exhibition match in four sets. This marked the second straight year that these two teams met in exhibition play, with last year’s match ending in a four-set tie in Toledo. Prior to last year, the Golden Grizzlies customarily opened their regular season schedule one week after their intra-squad black and gold scrimmage.
“Completing the home-and-home series with Toledo, I think it’s been an excellent opportunity for two good, really strong mid-major volleyball teams that are going to be competing for championships throughout the regular season to get an early look at playing someone else, playing against another system, playing against different personnel, different coaching styles, different team system styles,” Oakland head coach Rob Beam said. “I think it’s really important for us to leverage the lessons learned today, get together with film, get together with our team, coaching staff and build forward from here.”
The Golden Grizzlies showed the amount of depth on their roster, with multiple players showing their capability to execute. Redshirt senior middle hitter, Krysteena Davis picked up where she left off the last two years, with another strong hitting and blocking performance. Sophomore libero, Lindsay Wightman, provided a very steady defensive presence. Senior outside hitter, Alesandra Malek, provided a great all-around performance, and figures to play a key role for the Golden Grizzlies this year.
Then, there’s sophomore outside hitter Jamie Walling, who was the dominant player offensive, notching several clutch kills during the final set to help secure the win. Last year’s All-Horizon League Freshman honoree appears even more confident now with a year under her belt.
“It gives me a lot more confidence,” Walling said. “I’ve already been here for a year. I kind of know what’s going on. I kind of have the feel for the team and the expectations. There’s really no pressure going into this year for me. I know what I’m capable of and I know the people in our conference. I know the people on our team and I trust everyone (0n it).”
Beam has new look to his coaching staff with additions of Lauren “Doogie” Duquette and Sammy Condon, as assistant coaches. Duquette was one of the key players for the Golden Grizzlies when Beam took over as head coach in 2007. Though the team struggled then, with back-to-back eight win totals, Duquette served as a bright spot for the team and remains one of the most celebrated players in program history for her competitive edge. She joins the coaching staff after spending time as head coach at Rochester High, and then Bloomfield Hills Marian High.
Condon joined the coaching staff having just wrapped up her playing career as the Golden Grizzlies’ first ever four-time All-Horizon League selection and earning Horizon League Tournament MVP honors after helping them win the Tournament that year.
“I thought it was going to be a really strange transition for me,” Condon said. “I thought it was going to be tough going from player to coach, but actually, the transition has been seamless. I get along with the girls so well and they have trusted me for years prior and I think that made the transition a little bit easier and they still are trusting me with their volleyball, their skills and to be there for them.”
Duquette and Condon represent two different eras, two different chapters of the Golden Grizzlies’ history under Beam, enabling them to offer different perspectives about perseverance and success for the current squad of players.
“We talked about this a lot,” Duquette said. “I think it’s huge that she was part of some of the big, successful years and the proud moments for Oakland Volleyball and I was there for some of things that maybe weren’t so pretty. Both of us are extremely competitive, but we’re channeling those things we felt and experienced at Oakland through our years and we’re kind of molding everything around it; and I think it’s actually kind of cool because two very different stories and two very different careers, but we have the same endgame in mind and the same mindset too. It’s been working really well and actually been helping us.”