Michigan shaping offensive identity late into season
Michigan’s offensive unit showed its versatility Wednesday night as five different Wolverines put up big numbers, leading Michigan to a three-set sweep of Rutgers.
Leading the team with 10 points apiece were senior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright and senior opposite hitter Katherine Mahlke.
“Especially coming into this season, we knew that we had the capabilities to have four or five people every night have games like this one, and be pretty balanced like that,” Mahlke said. “When we play well like that, it helps open things up.”
While there have been games where multiple Wolverines are heavily involved in the offense, Michigan has had its share of matches where the offensive unit strongly relied on one player. While some of this inconsistency can be attributed to the unpredictability of live volleyball, the rest comes from the play of the athletes.
“Some games, we do kind of have one player who comes out on top and has more kills,” Mahlke said. “If they play well, then keep feeding them. Wherever we’re gonna get points is what we’re going to do, wherever it is.”
Michigan has often struggled most this season when the offensive focus has centered around a single player. In fact, the Wolverines’ last three losses all had one thing in common. Against Nebraska, Michigan State and Penn State, junior outside hitter Carly Skjodt’s points were much higher than that of her fellow teammates, nearly doubling them in every match.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen wants to move past this problem and work on spreading out offensive efforts.
“When we’re out of balance, we are not successful,” Rosen said. “When we are balanced, we’ve been successful.”
Rosen attributed his team’s dominant performance against the Scarlet Knights to this offensive balance.
“I think we did a good job tonight of bringing balance to our offense,” Rosen said. “I think there are a lot of things that go into being balanced offensively — first ball contact, how we pass the ball, (sophomore MacKenzi Welsh) and what she’s doing as a setter, and having hitters who are terminating.”
Clearly, how the Wolverines play the ball is crucial to their offensive game plan. Wednesday, they executed that aspect of their game to perfection, as Welsh finished the game with an astounding 26 assists.
“When we’re playing well and there’s just good energy, you can just tell that we’re having fun,” Mahlke said. “Every little thing means so much — just look at our bench and you’ll see that the girls on the bench are cheering as much as the girls on the court.” Mahlke believes that energy is key to the team’s offensive success, and will be going forward.
“I just think we need to stay balanced and stay consistent,” Kieffer-Wright said. “Sometimes we have a tendency to be a little flat, and we need to keep working on creating energy and continue working on our personality.”
With the offensive workload effectively spread out among Michigan’s talented roster, the Wolverines are better-equipped to compete in arguably the toughest conference in volleyball.