Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Michigan volleyball team was no stranger to strong talent and fast-paced game play as a member of the Big Ten. Entering Sunday’s game against No. 14 Purdue, the Wolverines knew they were entering a tough battle.
“We didn’t change much from a skill perspective; it was just all about our mindset coming into this match,” junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik said.
The match, though, didn’t reflect that game plan, but parts of it did.
Michigan put up a strong fight against the Boilermakers’ solid blocking and crafty offense, but at certain points in the match were unable to take authority. The Wolverines logged six of its 12 service errors and took only 26 attacks in the second set, the fewest attacks of the match. inability to execute and side-out eliminated its key offensive options, including junior outside hitter Jess Mruzik and sophomore middle blocker Jacque Boney. And due to the sloppy play and lack of offense, the Wolverines fell to Purdue, 15-12.
But the overall issue wasn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of consistent execution. In its comeback set, Michigan saw its best hitting and kill percentages, hitting .287 and .417 respectively. With less forced errors and scrappy defense, the Wolverines pulled together 25 to take the set, 25-19.
“I thought we served the ball really well in the third set and that was the plan in the first and second set as well, but we didn’t execute it very well,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “In the third set we were serving aggressively, into the gaps, into the places we were intending to serve, but also doing it consistently, and that’s the secret sauce.”
But this plan wasn’t sustained. The comeback fell short, and Purdue took the fourth and final set, 25-20, winning the match.
In spite of its inconsistent performance, the Wolverines have the talent and skill to compete and win. Their third set comeback in the match and their early season upset against No. 9 Penn State are indicative of their ability to succeed. What they lack, however, is execution.
“We need to execute better and longer,” Mruzik said. “I think we’re a little bit here and there with our execution, so I just think we need to make our execution more consistent and sustainable.”
When Michigan is able to execute, it has the ability to win and dominate. It strings together points and reap the benefits of its talented roster. In the third set, the Wolverines even had a six-point run against the Boilermakers, propelled by aggressive net-play and strong service.
“We’ve played a lot of really, really good teams and that’s been mentally very tiring on this team, but we have to be better than that as we go into that last stretch here,” Rosen said. “We’ve got a lot of matches that are really important and really winnable, but we have to be able to execute in those moments.”
In the final matches of its regular season, Michigan needs to buckle down and execute to ensure success. It has the talent; it just needs to string it all together.