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No. 22 Michigan volleyball upsets 14th-ranked Golden Gophers in 3-2 comeback win

BY ZAK PYZIK
Daily Sports Writer
Published September 26, 2010

Michigan volleyball coach Mark Rosen said last Tuesday that the Wolverines needed a signature win.

In No. 22 Michigan’s first 13 matches, the team didn’t have a chance to secure that kind of win. Before Saturday, the closest thing thus far was the Wolverine's 3-0 blowout victory over Iowa on Friday night. But the team, down two sets to Minnesota on Saturday night, took Rosen's words to heart — defeating Minnesota in three straight sets to send the fans home happy.

“Being down is something you have to deal with, its something in sports,” junior outside hitter Alex Hunt said after the match. “We just had a challenge, and we had to beat it. We didn’t want to go home on Saturday night feeling like that.”

Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 13-1 overall) won the third game, 25-22, after Hunt spiked a bullet off the shoulder of a Golden Gopher. Then, Hunt came through in the clutch again as she sealed a 25-23 win with a spike in the fourth game. Hunt finished the evening with a career-high 28 kills.

“I think the scores of the first two games said that what we were doing was not working,” Hunt said. “So I knew I had to get into the game and do something different.”

The opportunity Rosen had talked about lay before them. Michigan’s chance to get a signature win in signature fashion was 15 points away from happening in the most signature of ways — a comeback after being down 2-0 against a top-25 team.

Michigan kicked off the fifth and final set by taking a 6-3 advantage. But after a few attack errors, the Golden Gophers (1-1, 11-3) scored six points straight and took the lead 9-6. After mistakes on both ends of the court, the deciding set was notched at 13-all.

On the first match point, Michigan couldn’t finish, but on their second opportunity, the Wolverines signed the dotted line. Hunt took hold of the pen and killed a weak Minnesota block to send the Golden Gophers home with their hearts broken.

“I think we learned a lot about our team,” Rosen said. “We have the ability to compete, to have your back against the wall and have the courage to say that we can get better. We are starting to believe a little bit.”

Hunt led the Wolverines in scoring, tallying 31 points. Redshirt sophomore Claire McElheny also contributed to Michigan’s scoring offense. She followed Hunt with 16 points.

Though the Wolverines' offensive production glossed the comeback performance, it was Michigan’s defense that came through in the biggest of ways.

Junior libero Sloane Donhoff accounted for 16 digs, which was especially important considering Minnesota's physical advantage. The Golden Gophers are a taller and bigger squad, and they recorded 17 team blocks to Michigan’s nine.

“One thing we talked about before the match is that (Minnesota) is a very physical team,” Rosen said. “They make their money by being physical. I kind of liken them to being bullies… They will come in here and try to intimidate our team a little bit. I told our team that, that’s what they’re trying to do."

Thanks to a balanced game plan, Michigan snuck in an upset win over its first ranked opponent of the season.

“This is one of the biggest wins ever,” Rosen said. “That’s because of how the match played out. It's big because of how down we were. And honestly, I told them that this team is just better than us. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still win it.”