After the multi-week athletics shutdown that forced them to miss their first six games ended last weekend, the Michigan women’s volleyball team may have thought that it was finally out of the COVID-19-filled woods.
On Friday afternoon, however, the team learned that both head coach Mark Rosen and associate head coach Leisa Rosen would be unavailable for the weekend’s games due to contact tracing protocols. In their stead, assistant coach Jerome Fraisse took the helm on short notice for the team’s matches against Maryland.
Although Fraisse’s Wolverines (2-3 Big Ten) outperformed their east-coast opponents statistically in many areas of the first bout on Friday evening, they struggled with consistency, falling in five sets to a previously winless Maryland team (1-9 Big Ten). Their issues seemed to carry over at the beginning of Saturday’s match, but Michigan cleaned up its play and ultimately prevailed in a five-set thriller, splitting the two-game series.
Fraisse, who played and coached volleyball professionally in his home country of France, was hired as an assistant at Michigan in 2019. Despite being informed of the Rosens’ absence just hours before Friday’s match, he was confident in his ability to step up to the challenge.
“I (have been) a professional coach for 20 years, so it doesn’t matter if I have to be an assistant or a head coach,” Fraisse said. “I’m not going to find any drama because Mark and Leisa are not here –– we just have to move forward for the kids.”
However, the Wolverines’ play was noticeably sloppy on Friday, as their 29 attack errors and a whopping 23 service errors –– compared to an average of nine –– allowed Maryland to play carefully and conservatively as Michigan beat themselves with their own mistakes. Following the match, Fraisse encouraged his young team to calm themselves down, loosen up and trust their talent.
“We just asked them to play without fear,” Fraisse said. “Because we are a very young team, we have a lack of experience sometimes, (but) it’s going to be fine. We have a very talented team, and (we told them), ‘There’s no reason we’re not going to win this game.’ ”
Fraisse’s words proved to be helpful for the Wolverines, who returned to Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday and did what they weren’t able to the night before: play sound volleyball to the very end.
Sophomore middle blocker Jess Robinson led the way with an outstanding performance, netting 15 kills while also leading the team with four blocks. She brought boundless energy to the sideline each time she left the floor, jumping around and cheering wildly with her teammates at any positive development.
“We realized that when the energy is so high, we do so much better,” Robinson said. “So the bench, everybody on the court, we were so into it and so hype –– any ball that hit the floor, we were just going crazy.”
Momentum appeared to be swinging heavily in Maryland’s direction after a lengthy review overturned a Michigan point and gave the Terrapins a 4-1 lead early in the fifth set. But the Wolverines began to claw back. A ferocious spike by Robinson tied the set at five, and she added two more kills almost instantly to give Michigan an 8-6 lead. They never looked back from there, taking the final set 15-10.
“Everybody was down about the loss … I think we just refused to lose (tonight),” Robinson said. “There was no doubt in our minds that this game was ours.”
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