- Ruby Wallau/Daily
By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 9, 2012
The goal, at least in the short term, for Michigan coach Mark Rosen and the Michigan volleyball team was explicitly clear: beat Wisconsin.
On Friday night, it was mission accomplished for the Wolverines, who edged out a straight-set victory over the Badgers, 25-17, 25-22, 27-25. In addition to preserving a three-match win streak with six games remaining in the 2012 regular season, the stats suggest Michigan (8-7 Big Ten, 20-9 overall) had a bone to pick with the Badgers.
“We don’t quite know what it is. If we knew what it was, we would change it,” said junior middle blocker Jennifer Cross. “Michigan volleyball historically hasn’t done that well with Wisconsin. But we came and took it here at home, which is all we can do.”
Wisconsin entered Cliff Keen Arena having swept the Wolverines in straight sets during their first meeting in Madison on Oct. 7. Wisconsin also took both matches of the 2011 season and lead Michigan in the overall series by a decisive 48-18 margin.
“I think the biggest thing is they’re good,” Rosen said. “Their style of play tends to be pretty fast, and I think in the past we haven’t adjusted as well as we needed too. Tonight, we had a game plan going in, and I thought we executed it very well right from the beginning.”
In the first set, the Wolverines answered Wisconsin’s 4-0 run to tighten the score at 12-10 with a 7-0 run of its own. Strong blocking by Cross and freshman middle blocker Krystalyn Goode held Wisconsin’s offense to a meager .048 hitting percentage on the set.
“(Wisconsin) runs a lot of different patterns so it’s really important to identify where the middle blocker is,” Cross said. “I think we just communicated a lot better as a blocking unit.”
Michigan opened the second set with an early 8-3 lead before allowing the Badgers to tie the score at 11-11. Late hitting from junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin and senior middle blocker Claire McElheny gave the Wolverines the edge 25-21 over the Badgers despite their .357 hitting percentage.
The third set was a close call, and a reminder of games past for Michigan against Wisconsin. Down through most of the first half, Cross, Erwin and junior outside hitter Molly Toon stepped up to tie the set at 17-17. The teams went point-for-point until the Badgers committed two errors, giving Michigan the victory 27-25.
“We approached this like any other game,” Cross said. “It was an important game, but we didn’t make it any bigger than it was. We knew we needed to win this game, which we did.”
While four Wolverines — Erwin, Toon, Cross and McElheny — combined for 48 of Michigan’s 51 kills on the night, it was the Michigan defense that proved the difference in the match. The team recorded 46 digs, out-digging Wisconsin’s notoriously strong defense.
“I thought tonight we did a very good job of adjusting,” Rosen said. “Defensively, we matched them in digs, and they’re a good defensive team. We also out-blocked them, so obviously defensively we did a pretty good job.”
Late in the third set, freshman libero Tiffany Morales was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury after getting trapped diving for a ball. Morales, who led the team with 13 digs despite her early exit, has been crucial to Michigan’s defensive improvement this year. Though it was uncertain shortly after the match if Morales would be in the lineup for the final home game Saturday night, Rosen was confident that the level of play would remain high.
“When we need somebody to step into a role, we’ll be ready to go,” Rosen said. “We’ll be fine.”