With eight nonconference matches on the ledger, the Ashland University volleyball team will open Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play this week when it travels to Grand Valley State (Friday, 7 p.m.) and Wayne State (Saturday, 2 p.m.) for intra-divisional matchups.
The Eagles went 2-2 last week at the Middle of Everywhere Tournament in Rolla, Mo., winning two matches on the first day to extend their season-opening winning streak to six before suffering their first two losses of the season on Saturday.
Standing at 6-2, the Eagles have matched Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Northwood with the best overall record in the GLIAC.
Now, the season resets as Ashland focuses on conference play this week.
"They're going to be competitive matches, but if we can compete and we play our volleyball, then the wins will take care of themselves," said seventh-year head coach Cass Dixon.
The Eagles, who are receiving votes in the national American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, still lead the GLIAC in hitting percentage (.244) and kills per set (13.59), despite hitting under .140 in each of their matches last Saturday.
Sophomore outside hitter Shelby Woycik leads the GLIAC in kills (133) and kills per set (4.59), ranking seventh in the nation in the former.
Dixon pointed out that the Eagles struggled defensively in the final two matches in Missouri last week, leading to the two defeats. She said if her team takes care of the ball, they will have success attacking.
"Our ball control needs to be spot on, whether that's out of serve-receive or out of defense," she said. "This week, we put a focus on being disciplined, making the right reads and making the right drops."
When the defense clicks and the passes are coming to junior setter Kayla Pfeiffer, the Eagles have the firepower take over a match.
"We have attackers that can be successful from any position," Dixon said. "When we're in system, we're putting Kayla in a position where she can make the right choice based on what blocking scheme our opponents are using."
Ashland will play a Grand Valley State team that defeated the Eagles in four sets in Allendale, Mich. last season. AU and Wayne State played three times last year with the Eagles winning twice, including a five-setter in the first round of the GLIAC Tournament. The Eagles lost to the Warriors in five in the teams' only matchup in Detroit.
This week starts a stretch of six of nine matches in a true road venue for the Eagles, who have won 18 straight on their home court.
"It's a volleyball court like any other volleyball court. If we play Ashland volleyball that's all that matters," said Dixon.