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Michigan gains late-season momentum in feast of Spartans

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 21, 2012

After losing to rival Michigan State earlier in the season, the Michigan volleyball team is thankful to enter its holiday weekend with added momentum before the conclusion of the regular season.

On Wednesday, the Wolverines made quick work of the Spartans, 26-24, 25-20, 25-20, thanks to junior outside hitter Molly Toon’s 16 kills and a strong supporting cast.

The win came at the right time.

The result of a lack of execution, Michigan lost games to Northwestern and Illinois — two teams the Wolverines beat in three sets earlier in the season. Wednesday, though, Michigan came out with the execution that accounted for a five-game win streak.

“The matches are separate so we don’t think very much about the last match,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “I just thought we played very steady and resilient and competed well throughout the night.”

The Spartans raced out to an early 11-6 lead in the first set before Rosen was forced to call a timeout. His team responded quickly, tying the game at 14 on one of junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin’s 13 kills. Michigan State grabbed a built up a lead again, this one a 24-21 advantage, threatening to capture the first set.

But Rosen once again rallied his team in a timeout. A kill from Erwin was quickly followed by a block and a kill from Toon to tie the game. Freshman defensive specialist Lindsey Lerg used strong serving to close out the set and end the comeback.

Toon’s 16 kills and four blocks propelled the Wolverines for the rest of the night, impressing her coach.

“She’s been very solid for us in the last 10 matches,” Rosen said. “She’s very aggressive with her swings and really wanted the ball throughout the entire match.”

Michigan’s momentum pushed them in the beginning of the second set, as it jumped out to an early 10-5 lead. The Spartans came back within two shortly after, but the Wolverines never relinquished their lead.

Ahead 16-14, Michigan took advantage of a 4-0 run capped by a block from Toon. State was unable to mount a run of its own and dropped the second set.

Earlier in October, the Wolverines dropped a three-set loss of their own, but it provided no extra motivation for a team looking to solidify its spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“We can’t sit there an think about what happened a month ago,” Rosen said. “If it does I think we’re doing the wrong thing. If you have a long memory that’s not good.”

Sophomore setter Lexi Dannemiller and freshman libero Tiffany Morales led the team in assists (37) and digs (12), respectively, contributing to a game.

Even after falling behind 15-10, Michigan remained in control. It used a 9-1 run taking advantage of a slew of Michigan State errors. The Wolverines cruised through the end of the set, putting themselves in good position before they play Ohio State on Friday.

Michigan has yet to square off against the Buckeyes this season, facing the challenge of taking on a team that runs a much faster offense. According to Rosen, the Wolverines haven’t seen an offense like Ohio State since it lost in four sets to Marquette in September.

“It’s going to be an interesting challenge for us both offensively and defensively,” Rosen said. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments to our system, because our system isn’t really set up with that style of play.”