Despite recent skid, Michigan looks forward
There is no doubt that the Michigan volleyball team has an abundant amount of talent. Sophomore Adeja Lambert skies to every spike, junior Abby Cole soars above the net to block opposing hitters, and sophomore Caroline Knop seems to excel at it all. Senior Tiffany Morales is able to control mostly everything that comes at her, sophomore Claire Kieffer-Wright is automatic at serving and senior Krystalyn Goode is adept in her play at the net.
Yet in Wednesday night's loss to No. 11 Wisconsin, the Wolverines (6-9 Big Ten, 16-10 overall) were once again unable to muster a complete performance, falling to the Badgers for the second time in a week.
After four losses in a row, Michigan is reeling. But from Michigan coach Mark Rosen all the way down to his players, there does not seem to be a sense of panic.
“We know we have to play well at this level and in this conference,” Rosen said. “We are not good enough yet at attacking and defending, and we have to be more consistent … because volleyball is all about scoring in a consistent manner.”
In 2014, the Wolverines found themselves in a similar situation. After starting Big Ten play with a 5-3 record, Michigan lost its next five games, with its fifth loss also coming to the Badgers. The team responded by winning two of its next three, including an impressive win over No. 17 Ohio State. With just five games left to play, the Wolverines are hoping that their struggles are now behind them.
“If we are able to continually execute at a high level for 25 points in a row, we will be a great team,” Knop said. “Not tonight you get to be great or tomorrow you get to be bad, you are not going to win games in the Big Ten with that type of inconsistency that we showed tonight.”
In their last five Big Ten matchups, the Wolverines have been up against a bevy of strong opponents, with the Badgers proving the sternest of them all. Despite these star-laden foes exploiting its weaknesses, Michigan has showed signs that it’s starting to recover the form that helped it start the season 10-0.
“There are lots of periods where we are playing some really good volleyball,” Rosen said. “I thought tonight we got better at controlling things that we can control, but when you are losing, it is easy to get frustrated.”
As the team attempts to work through its most difficult part of the schedule, certain players have been stepping up to try and salvage the Wolverines’ season. In particular, Knop, who recently missed four games due to an injury, has recorded double-digit kills in four of her last five matches.
“Caroline is a fantastic athlete who is really quick,” Rosen said. “Beyond her athleticism, she battles, she plays hard, and she is a fighter … and an emotional leader who brings a lot of those intangibles to the team.”
With Knop stepping up and other players registering strong performances against Wisconsin, expect this Michigan team to rebound.
With a matchup against No. 14 Ohio State on Saturday, the perfect opportunity to knock off a higher-ranked rival and to get back in the win column presents itself. All the talented Wolverines need to do is play like they know they can.