No. 1 Nebraska proves too much for the Wolverines
The No. 18 Michigan volleyball team was on a 6-1 scoring run, trailing No. 1 Nebraska in the fourth set. Scrappy defensive plays gave the Wolverines the edge in the waning points, but they had already fallen too far behind to catch up to the Cornhuskers.
The deciding point was a Nebraska kill by Mikaela Foecke, which went off the Michigan block and landed out of bounds, securing the Cornhuskers a 3-1 win and the Big Ten championship.
Nebraska (18-2 Big Ten, 27-2 overall) seemed to be in control of the match from the start. The Wolverines (11-9, 22-10) only secured their first lead in the beginning of the third set. The Cornhuskers held Michigan to just a .020 hitting percentage in the first set, meager compared to their .139.
Though the Wolverines stepped up their offense in the second set, their defense paid the price. The Cornhuskers dominated with a .500 hitting percentage and easily took the set, 25-17.
Michigan went into the break down 0-2, and it had to make some adjustments if it hoped to come back against a strong Nebraska team.
It came into the third set on a roll and, following an ace from fifth-year senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy, the Cornhuskers called a timeout. The timeout proved ineffective for Nebraska, though, as the Wolverines came back with a 4-0 run.
It seemed as if Michigan was going to force a fourth set easily, but the Cornhuskers kept the Wolverines on their toes by saving six set points. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore outside hitter Carly Skjodt ended the set with a kill that hit off the Nebraska block and landed out of bounds.
The Wolverines fell behind quickly in the fourth set. Michigan coach Mark Rosen tried to slow the Cornhuskers’ momentum by calling timeouts, and even by getting a net violation overturned, but Nebraska was too effective on all sides of the ball. Michigan fell in the fourth set, 25-21.
Junior middle blocker Claire Kieffer-Wright impressed not only in Saturday’s match, but also throughout the season. Kieffer-Wright finished the match with 13 kills and has proven she will be an important player for the Wolverines in the postseason.
“She’s been one of our most consistent performers offensively,” Rosen said. “And not only her execution side of the ball, but I think her personality and her leadership has been great.”
Despite the loss to Nebraska, the Wolverines finished with a winning Big Ten record – a good sign with the postseason on the horizon. They will enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 12 overall seed, which is a testament to the stiff competition they’ve faced throughout their conference play. They will face American in the first round on their home court at Crisler Center.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot better because of the strong competition and now we go to postseason really prepared,” said Rosen. “We’ll try and take it one match at a time.”