Grizzlies split pair of matches

The Oakland University women’s volleyball team took one step closer to securing their first ever bid to the Summit League tournament last weekend, as they split a pair of in-conference matches at the O’Rena.


The Golden Grizzlies dropped a heartbreaker Friday to the IUPUI Jaguars — three sets to two, but rebounded nicely Saturday with a dominating performance, winning in three sets to sweep Western Illinois.


Oakland was up 2-1 in sets against IUPUI Friday night, but was unable to sustain the momentum. OU fell behind quickly in the fourth and tie-breaking fifth sets, sealing the victory for the Jaguars.


After the match, Grizzlies head coach Rob Beam knew that his team had let an important game slip away.


“This was a disappointing effort for our program,” Beam said. “This was a match competing for second place (in the conference), and I don’t think we came out with any measure of seriousness or intent on securing that.”


Freshman Brittany Holbrook said that the team lost focus after taking a 2-1 lead.


“I think we became really confident and started saying to ourselves, ‘Oh, we’re just going to win this, and we’re not going to try as hard as we did.’ And I think that’s what happened, and they got runs,” Holbrook said. “We couldn’t come back from that.”


Even in defeat, the Grizzlies put up statistics good enough to win on many nights. Holbrook hit .682 for the match, the second highest single-game percentage in school history. Senior captain Adrienne Leone recorded 23 kills, the highest total for any player on either team.


OU managed to salvage the weekend, however, by showing no ill effects of Friday’s loss in knocking off Western Illinois the following afternoon.


The Grizzlies defeated the Leathernecks, 3-0, in straight sets.


After opening the match with a dominant 25-16 first set win, OU had to fight for the other two, as Western Illinois kept it close. The Grizzlies ultimately scratched out 25-23 and 25-22 wins to sweep for the fourth time this season, the first in conference play.


One of Oakland’s keys to victory was its success on serves. Oakland had 14 service aces in the match — the second-highest three-set total in OU history.


In his post-game comments, coach Beam praised his young team for coming back positively from Friday night’s loss.


“This was a much-improved performance,” said the Grizzlies coach. “I thought we had great energy and great spirit. We rebounded from a tough loss last night and put forth one of our best efforts this season.”


Oakland takes its 13-4 overall record on the road, traveling to Fargo, N.D. for its next match Friday, Oct. 16. The team’s next opponent, North Dakota State, is a perfect 9-0 in conference play and will serve as a measuring stick for a Grizzlies team that was not expected to compete for the conference title.


OU has a very young team this season, operating with just two seniors on the roster to provide experience and leadership. The team has several freshmen making significant contributions this season, and their ability to keep composure down the final stretch of the season will be something to watch.


If all goes according to plan, Oakland’s upcoming trip to North Dakota won’t be its only visit this season. A return trip in November for the Summit League Championships would represent a major step in the right direction for a program that has struggled in recent seasons.


— Dan Fenner contributed to this report.