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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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Young, ailing, Wolverines finish 2-1 in Arkansas

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Jacob Gase, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 31, 2014

The Michigan volleyball team has plenty of talent and experience in its starting six this season. Except half of it didn't see action this weekend.

With junior outside hitters Ally Davis and Kelly Murphy out with injuries and senior setter Lexi Dannemiller sitting out the tournament due to an “internal rules” violation, coach Mark Rosen started two freshmen and a junior setter with only one career start.

The youth and inexperience led to mixed results in the first regular season action as the Wolverines rolled past Stephen F. Austin and Tennessee State before dropping their final match to Arkansas in five sets.

After taking the first set against the Razorbacks, Michigan was overwhelmed by the best opponent it faced all weekend. Arkansas’s blocking game closed down the Wolverines’ attacks and caused the young team to make unforced errors. They committed nine errors in the second set and 10 errors in the third set, ultimately losing both and handing the Razorbacks all the momentum.

“We probably should have won that match if we had a little more experience and were a little more consistent,” Rosen said. “(Arkansas) is a good team, there’s no question about it. But I think we’re better than them. I think we had a chance to win that match.”

The Wolverines rallied to force a fifth set, but they were unable to finish off the Razorbacks, as they fell 17-25, 25-23, 25-15, 19-25, 15-11.

The loss doesn’t mean Michigan didn’t find any positives over the weekend, though.

“I’m really proud of our team,” said sophomore middle blocker Abby Cole. “I think we have a lot of heart, and we began to show that. It was the first time that we’ve been tested and played against another team, so I think that was really good for us. It was definitely a good experience for growth.”

Cole was arguably Michigan’s most dominant player over the weekend, riding some career performances to a team-leading 46 kills as well as 10 blocks. Her performance over the weekend landed her on the All-Tournament team.

Joining her on that team were junior libero Tiffany Morales — who combined with fellow junior libero/defensive specialist Lindsey Lerg to hold down the back court with 83 total digs — and junior setter Carly Warner, who did a remarkable job (126 sets, just one attack error) filling in for one of the best setters in the country despite her inexperience.

“(We need to) stay steady and consistent,” Cole said. “We have a lot of talent, and we fell short in the Arkansas match because we just kind of hit a wall.”

Michigan (2-1) downed the Ladyjacks and the Lady Tigers in four and three sets, respectively, losing the only set to Stephen F. Austin by two points.

For most of the weekend, the lineup’s youth infusion appeared effective enough to pull off the clean sweep. The two freshman starters, defensive specialist Caroline Knop and opposite hitter Katherine Mahlke, slid comfortably into their roles. Knop, a natural libero playing on the outside because of injuries, finished the weekend with 23 kills and 31 digs. Mahlke nearly matched her, picking up 20 kills and 28 digs in her first three collegiate matches. Freshman outside hitter Adeja Lambert established herself as a legitimate attack threat on an injury-depleted bench, recording 29 kills.

“We had a very young, inexperienced lineup that was kind of forced to play,” Rosen said. “I thought those players did an outstanding job. It showed that as we get healthy and get everybody back, we’re going to have a lot of depth and a lot of options, and I think we’re going to be very competitive.”