MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – The idea for a volleyball match on Mackinac Island began during a conversation between Northern Michigan Volleyball Head Coach Mike Lozier and Central Michigan Volleyball Head Coach Mike Gawlik while on a recruiting trip in Detroit.
“He expressed that he and his team were interested in coming to the U.P. to play,” said Mike Lozier, the head coach of the Wildcats. “We started just firing off places where maybe we would want to play, he didn’t want to come all the way to Marquette. So, eventually, he was like, ‘hey what about Mackinac Island.”
The first step to making this dream a reality was to find a place to hold the match. Mackinac Island Public School welcomed the idea of allowing the teams to hold the match in their gymnasium with open arms.
“I didn’t even know if there was a school on the Island,” said Lozier. “He reached out to the woman who is the superintendent, athletic director, and school principal. The moment that she said, ‘Hey, we want to do this.’ It allowed us the opportunity to really start digging into what it’s going to take.”
Thanks to the help of representatives from both universities and Mackinac Island, a plan was rather quickly put in place. The event sold out in no time. Northern Michigan and Central Michigan were set to be a part of history. The match will be the first-ever collegiate volleyball match held on Mackinac Island.
“I feel like it will be a good experience for our team,” said Jacqueline Smith, a junior outside hitter for the Wildcats. “I’ve been there, but I know a lot of our team hasn’t. It’s just a cool and different experience. I mean, there are horses and buggies, so that’s kind of fun, and just a more traditional kind of living is so fun. It’s pretty out there so it’s exciting.”
“We’re just really excited,” said Lozier. “Never having a match and that level on the Island, I know people there are really excited. We’re honestly most excited about the test we’re going to get playing Central Michigan. They’re a division-one team in the MAC who’s historically been very good. We’re looking to get tested early on and that’s exactly what that does. It also offers a unique opportunity for people who maybe don’t see volleyball at this level very often to get exposed to it.”
The early test is something Lozier and his coaching staff have strategically put in place to help drive and motivate the team as they near the start of the regular season.
“Central Michigan provides exactly what we need,” said Lozier. “We need to play quality competition, we need teams that are going to expose our weaknesses so we can get back into the gym and work on those things so the next time we play we’re that little bit better along the way.”
“In spring season last year we competed against a lot of D1 teams,” said Smith. “So, I feel like it will be a refresher on how to compete at a higher level. It’s definitely going to get us ready for the season so I’m excited.”
The Match will be held on the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The trip will be a way to educate the team and raise awareness of what it took for equality in sports.
Title IX: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
“What they’re currently doing right now is reaping the benefits of those who have paved the way before,” said Lozier. “I think it’s going to be really important during this journey, through this trip, to acknowledge those people that helped create this opportunity for us.”
Along with the quality competition, the trip to the Island provides a great opportunity for team bonding.
“Preseason has kind of been a grind, so it’s going to be a nice little break,” said Smith. “Sometimes we’ll have some off-time to go explore and that will be nice and it will be as a team so some good team bonding.”
“I’m always looking for things for new and interesting ways to bring the team together,” said Lozier. “What better thing to do than go to Mackinac Island which is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world? We get to do that and we get to spend some quality time together.”
The match between Northern Michigan and Central Michigan will take place on Mackinac Island this Saturday at 12:00 p.m./noon EST.