Down by two in the fifth set, the Michigan volleyball team appeared out of breath and lagging behind against Duke.
A day after playing five sets in a loss to Western Kentucky, the Wolverines defense struggled for most of the night Saturday, but their competitiveness came through.
Freshman libero Tiffany Morales dove after a ball, which deflected outside the court. Junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin chased the ball and placed it into the center allowing the point to continue. Michigan ultimately won the final game of the Coke/Michigan Invitational, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 15-25 and 15-13 in a match highlighted by the Wolverines errors.
“We didn’t take care of the ball really,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We probably had the C game today, but we found a way to win. Because you’re not always going to have your A game. In the end, we have to recognize that the girls found a way.”
Michigan fell behind 7-4 in the beginning of the fifth set but used a block from junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross to tie the game at nine. Both teams traded points until The Wolverines put together a 4-0 run, featuring two kills from junior outside hitter Molly Toon. A kill from Erwin ended the night and the tournament.
“I think the whole game we were working on the serving and passing battle,” Erwin said. “Our serves some games were inconsistent with them and sometimes they weren’t as great as we wanted them to be. I think that last game we wanted to be steady with the serving and passing to move Duke’s blockers around and I think that worked.”
Tied at one in the first set, Michigan used a 4-0 run to grab an early lead that they never relinquished. Several smaller runs would give the Wolverines their largest lead at 15-9 before the Blue Devils slowly worked their way back to a one-point deficit. But a kill from Cross ended the set.
Eight attack errors in the second set doomed Michigan, despite holding an 11-8 lead midway through the game. The Blue Devils came back to build a 17-20 lead, at which point Rosen used his injured fifth-year senior — right-side hitter Claire McElheny.
Her return did little in the second set, as Duke coasted into the end of the set, but McElheny’s presence was appreciated after missing her against Western Kentucky the night before.
“She hasn’t practiced very much in three weeks,” Rosen said of his captain. “She came into this environment and really did a good job of affecting it. That’s her experience and her competitiveness.”
Duke raced out to a 7-1 lead in the third set and eventually a 12-6 lead. The Wolverines responded with an 11-1 run, capped by a kill from freshman outside hitter Kelly Murphy. The lead never slipped away, as Michigan cruised through the end, highlighted by two kills from Cross.
In set four, Duke used two 5-0 runs pull ahead 18-8. Michigan would never threaten, as the Wolverines attack percentage was a dismal .100.
Cross was named to the All-Tournament team after ending her night with seven blocks and 11 kills.
Erwin was also named to the All-Tournament team, adding the accomplishment to a long list of others this season. The standout has played in every set this season and has yet to falter.
“Two five-set games in a row are a lot,” Erwin said. “My legs were feeling it at the end, but I think Claire coming in and all the hitters really stepping up, so that definitely helped.”
Added Rosen: “I thought Lexi was phenomenal. All night she carried a huge load for us. She’s not been that go-to, carry-the-load kid and she’s really figured out how to do that.”
Toon (10 kills and 10 digs) as well as Murphy (14 kills and 14 digs) both posted double-doubles for the first and second times in their respective careers.
Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller finished with 56 assists and 10 digs, on the night, while Morales finished with 15 digs to lead the team.
“It was a crazy match and wasn’t a clean match at all,” Rosen said. “I think there is a thing you can’t stat though and that’s competeing. Our team just gritted out and found ways toward the end.”