Michigan volleyball bids farewell to five seniors

By Liz Nagle, For the Daily
Published November 22, 2011

Each has her own story — how she got here, where she’s going. But their paths crossed when they chose to wear the block 'M.'

The No. 23 Michigan volleyball team’s season comes to an end with bittersweet emotions. Its five seniors share mixed feelings while preparing to leave their legacy behind.

Libero/defensive specialist Sloane Donhoff found immediate success. She earned her varsity letter as a freshman and went on to lead the Big Ten in total digs, with 549, during her sophomore year. Donhoff remained consistent in breaking personal records and was named captain in her last two seasons.

“My freshman year I was lucky enough to come in and get a pretty good amount of playing time, and ever since then I was able to have an impact (on the team),” Donhoff said. “It started out small and just gradually kept building and building.”

The other senior defensive specialist, Michelle McMahon, traced a much different journey, one not distinguished by her statistics but by her underdog story.

“I had to believe in myself and get support from my friends and family, knowing I wouldn’t always get from everyone else,” McMahon said.

McMahon started her freshman year as a walk-on, coming from a small school in west Michigan, Forest Hills Northern High School. She stood in the back row of the court, but at 5-foot-4 inches tall her playing time was limited. Her quick reaction time became her primary strength. This season, McMahon claimed her fist career kill and service ace in a mid-season loss to Wisconsin.

“It was really important to be quick on my feet — that’s one of my strong points. I’m small and fast, which has always been something I’ve had to improve upon,” McMahon said.

For senior middle blocker Courtney Fletcher, height wasn’t an issue. She stands 6-foot-4 inches and utilizes that advantage. However, her collegiate success had a lethargic start.

“Oh Lord, it’s been a very interesting and long journey for me,” Fletcher said. “I did not play at all my freshman year and had a hard time adjusting to the demands of playing collegiate volleyball in the Big Ten.”

Over time, Fletcher found ways to cope with the new lifestyle. Volleyball pushed her to stress her threshold, with its demanding time commitment, but her teammates put her at ease.

“Playing the game was difficult for me, but it was the girls and the family atmosphere kept me sane and kept me going,” Fletcher said. “It’s the biggest challenge, but the biggest payoff.”

Fletcher went on to record numerous kills in every set and was selected for the 2011 All-Tournament Team at the Michigan/Adidas Invitational.

Alex Hunt and redshirt senior Karlee Bruck remained assets to the team’s winning seasons year after year. Hunt had double-digit kills in 27 matches during her junior year. She was then elected onto the third All-American team of the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Bruck led the team in blocks, with 103, in 2008, coming off of a medical redshirt the year before. She continued to put up numerous kills per match and during the 2008 Ohio State match, she claimed the Michigan single-match record with a .818 attack percentage.

Although the seniors all began at different levels, Michigan coach Mark Rosen has seen both competition and leadership growth from all.

Is he concerned about losing five individuals?

“We’re always concerned about that,” Rosen said. “You always wonder how the team is going to progress as you lose people with as much experience as the seniors do.

“It’s something that goes on every year though so we get used to it and it’s just part of the equation, kind of normal. But one thing I always say is you never know what you’re going to lose until you lose it.”

Michigan closes the regular season this weekend with a match against Michigan State on Friday, followed by Ohio State on Saturday. It will be the seniors’ final matches together where their paths will fork into different directions. That is, unless they qualify for the NCAA championships.

“We certainly plan on and are preparing to play our best volleyball of the year in this battle,” Rosen said.