Wolverines topple Northwestern with balanced attack
Errors are commonplace on the volleyball court, whether it’s sending an errant kill beyond the boundaries of the court, grazing the net with an outstretched hand while attempting a block, or smacking a low serve straight into the net. Collegiate and professional players fall victim to these gaffes with no less frequency than rec leaguers and pickup players. It’s just a part of the game.
If your offense is cruising and the opposing defense can’t catch a break, any errors will quickly be forgotten. Find yourself in a tit-for-tat battle, however, and they make a world of difference.
In the second set of a tense back-and-forth match with Northwestern, the Michigan volleyball team (15-7 overall, 8-4 Big Ten) trailed by nine. The Wolverines were without the services of senior setter Mackenzi Welsh and her team-leading 44 assists due to an ankle sprain. In so many words, there was no room for error.
Michigan battled the Wildcats (10-14,1-11), losing the second set by only two points, but was ultimately undone by a series of errors early on. A setback such as this might halt the momentum of many teams, but the Wolverines came roaring back with a five-set win Saturday, 25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 23-25, 15-8.
“We were down by nine, and lost only by two, and that was without probably our most experienced player,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen, “but in the third set, we got a little bit of a lead with Mack able to come back. She wasn’t at full speed, but at least we’ve got that experience and veteran leadership on the court.”
Welsh’s injury limited her contributions for the remainder of the match, but her teammates were able to clean up their errors and outduel Northwestern on both ends of the court. While Wildcat middle blocker Desiree Becker couldn’t be contained — accounting for 15 kills, nine blocks and a .536 hitting percentage — only one of Becker’s teammates, outside hitter Nia Robinson, hit double-digit kills. Meanwhile, four Wolverines tallied 11 or more kills, and the team ended the night with six more digs than Northwestern.
Redshirt senior middle blocker Cori Crocker was a key cog in Michigan’s resurgence. After being sidelined in last week’s loss against No. 6 Wisconsin, Crocker had limited impact in a win against No. 19 Illinois. Crocker finished the night with 14 kills, six blocks and a .500 hitting percentage, nearly matching Becker’s excellent statline.
“She’s our quickest attacker,” Rosen said. “She’s hitting in the middle, so they have to stay with her, and our other attackers’ numbers go up, too.”
It was the performance of the entire team that enabled the Wolverines to flip the script. An equal distribution of offense prevented any one player from doing too much and succumbing to errors, while the group’s defensive effort pressured the Wildcats, forcing them into errors that proved decisive in taking the third and fifth sets.
“When we started putting this team together, even before we started practice in August, we felt like balance was gonna be really important,” Rosen said. “We have a lot of offensive options, which becomes harder to defend.”