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“Sunday” Setter: A bittersweet end to a year full of toughness and togetherness

This edition of the Sunday Setter is coming out now due to the MAC Tournament
The+2023+Falcons
Drake Harlett
The 2023 Falcons

They certainly gave it their all.

Hostile environment, #1 seed, undefeated conference record, and undefeated at home- all aspects of an historic season for the Western Michigan Broncos, the team BGSU Volleyball fell to last night in the 2023 Mid-American Conference Championship in Kalamazoo.

The match itself was one that, just like this season for the Falcons, was one that BG had to fight an uphill battle in order to give themselves a chance.

Oh man did they do so.

After dropping the opening two sets 25-16 and 25-21, the match seemed as if WMU was going to cruise right along to a title.

Dominating the battle in service aces through the first two sets (7-3), creating issues for the Falcon back row, and hitting a combined 36.45%, the Broncos looked poised and too much to handle for the #6 seed Falcons.

But then the real Falcon team started flexing their muscles.

“When tournament time comes, records don’t matter,” said senior Jaden Walz after BG’s semifinal win against Buffalo. “We went into this match wanting to get that 1% better like we strive for every game.”

Behind a career-high six aces from Lauryn Hovey along with 22 kills, a 17 kill night for Mia Tyler, as well as a dozen from Kat Mandly, the Falcons fought to the very end with the mighty Broncos, pushing them to five sets for only the third time this season.

And you know what, even in a loss, as much as it sucks to lose a title match, this team battled so hard to the very end.

In fact, I’d call this season one word-

Bittersweet.

Things of course started off very bitter for this BG team, as back on August 15, the team announced that future BG Hall-of-Famer Petra Indrova would miss the 2023 season with a lower body injury.

Who is Indrova? None other than a three-time all-MAC First Team nominee, a two-time MAC Player of the Year, a nine-time MAC East Offensive Player of the Week award winner, and is top 10 all-time for career kills with 1,348, eighth in program history.

Pretty significant loss.

But BGSU kept things together, navigating the non-conference portion of the schedule with a record of 6-5, including beating the Big Ten’s Michigan Wolverines twice, the first time BGSU has beaten a school from that conference twice in one season since 1992.

Once the MAC slate began?

Phew there was a rough stretch.

From losing six straight matches, to losing budding star in freshman Amanda Otten to a season-ending knee injury, BGSU just continued to have hurdle after hurdle present themselves to have to climb over.

But then the Ohio series happened.

A weekend battle with a team who ended up being the #4 seed in this year’s MAC Tournament, the Bobcats hosted the Falcons back on Oct. 13-14.

Sure, the green and white claimed the first match in four sets, but the next day?

A sense of relief for Falcon fans, as BG defeated Ohio in four to end a three week long stretch of losing volleyball.

That’s when the switch got flipped.

The switch was flipped, and BG, fighting alongside Akron, Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan, was able to persevere thanks to closing the final 11 games with 10 wins, with wins in the process against Akron in a road series sweep.

Sure, there was a hiccup in Mount Pleasant, but Ohio helped out BG, as during senior day weekend, where BG swept the #2 seed Buffalo Bulls, Ohio swept CMU in Mt. Pleasant to lock BG into the tournament.

Then there’s the tournament, where BG drew the #6 seed and faced #3 Ball State, a team they had lost to in four sets during their six-game losing streak, and Buffalo again.

The quarterfinal round? An absolute classic, as BG, behind a career-high 66 assists from Walz and 28 kills from Hovey, were able to squeak past the Cardinals in five thrilling sets.

How about that semifinal too, where BG once again bested Buffalo in straight sets to create the championship scenario of #1 WMU versus #6 BGSU.

Don’t need to repeat the result.

But nonetheless, this Bowling Green team accomplished something that not many teams in the MAC can say they’ve ever done before.

For starters, this year’s title appearance was BG’s fifth straight, the longest streak by a MAC school since Ohio went to eight straight from 2003-10.

The seeded matchup in the championship was also the first time a six seed made it to this point since 2017.

“Playing in five championships, we really try to not take it for granted,” said Associate Head Coach Alex DelPiombo after the semifinal win. “But we do know how to be there, we know how to be in this tournament, and this year, we’ve gone player to player learning how to get those kills in these moments.”

So how does this all get done? Toughness and togetherness.

The bonds that these players have for each other just radiates everywhere they go; a team unfazed by a big moment, unfazed by adversity, unfazed by success as well.

Every day is the same- championship level preparation.

Why does this occur? It starts with the head coach, Danijela Tomic, who her herself had to deal with a large bit of adversity this year, as two weeks ago, Tomic returned home to Catici of Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to the passing of her father.

Yet, the team, the coaching staff, the fans- all of them never blinked.

It takes a tough team to do that, it takes a team that is together to do that, and even without a banner being hung in the rafters next year, there was a ton to respect from this program this year.

I know, because as someone who made the trips all year long with them, I can attest to just how special the bonds these players have for each other.

It’s unique, and for fans of BGSU Athletics, they better start paying them more attention and more respect.

Sure, some big names will most likely be missing next year. From Indrova and Walz to Alexis Mettille and Alex Laboy, many decorated figures will have shoes left to fill.

But lookout folks, the team still has Hovey, Tyler, some young budding stars like Otten, Benedetta Marcon and Helen Wilford, as well as returning veterans such as Jessica Andrews and Lindsey LaPinta.

So yes, you can continue to doubt like many did this team this season, but I can promise you one thing-

If you think this team is going to quit? You are going to be gravely mistaken.

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

 

 

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