What a difference three weeks makes.
Prior to the 2016 Mizuno Midwest Region Volleyball Crossover in Aurora, Ill., Ashland University's volleyball team was 10-8 overall and 4-5 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and on the outside looking in where the 2016 GLIAC Tournament was concerned.
Fast-forward to the start of November, and the Eagles, thanks to a six-match winning streak, begin a stretch of five of its last six regular-season matches at home at 16-8, 7-5, and in control of its GLIAC Tournament destiny.
Playing three matches in five days at Kates Gymnasium, Ashland will face Tiffin (16-10, 6-6) on Tuesday (Nov. 1) at 7 p.m., Lake Erie (16-13, 7-5) on Friday (Nov. 4) at 7 p.m. and Ohio Dominican (8-14, 3-9) on Saturday (Nov. 5) at 6 p.m.
"We've made some changes in the past few weeks, and I think we are working really well together as a team, so I'm excited to see what happens now that we have the opportunity to be at home," said Ashland head coach Cass Dixon.
In a tie for third place in the GLIAC South Division coming into the week, the Eagles are one match ahead of both Hillsdale and Tiffin in the quest to qualify for the conference tourney for the 13th time overall.
Ashland's six-match winning streak is tied for the second-longest for the Eagles in Dixon's six seasons as head coach, bested only by the 11 wins in a row from Oct. 26-Nov. 23, 2013. It's no coincidence that the wins have come since the lineup change of senior Casey Clark back to outside hitter, senior Alli Cudworth to right-side hitter and junior Melanie Aguayo to libero.
In the last six matches, Clark is hitting .262, and has 78 kills, 82 digs and 10 total blocks; Cudworth is hitting .294 and has collected 91 kills, 13 service aces, 66 digs and 10 total blocks and Aguayo leads the team with 101 digs.
"She's been passing serve really well," Dixon said of Aguayo. "She keeps putting balls in play, and extending rallies for us through her defense. It's invaluable, because great defense leads to a great offense. She's really been able to extend a lot of plays for us."
Cudworth needs 91 digs to become the third player in program history to have 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs. She would become the second Ashland player to achieve the feat this season, after Clark did so earlier this month.
"The accomplishments that both of them have been able to achieve over the course of their careers are just phenomenal," said Dixon. "Just a great credit to who they are as athletes and people."
Ashland's leading offensive player during the winning streak has been freshman outside hitter Shelby Woycik, who has 84 kills and a team-high .338 hitting percentage in that span.
"Once we made the switch from the right side to the left side for her, it's her natural position," Dixon said. "She just feels comfortable over there, and it shows. She's where we need her to be at this point and time."
During the streak, the Eagles have won 18 of 25 sets, and their cumulative team hitting percentage is 100 points higher than the opposition (.287 to .187).
Ashland is 5-0 at home in 2016, and has won 17 of its last 20 matches at Kates Gymnasium.