As the No. 15 Michigan volleyball team took the court for its match against Maryland, fans could sense the importance of the game. The Wolverines were hoping to repeat their win against Wisconsin last week following the preceding three-game losing streak. After a season characterized by injuries, this game had crucial implications for Michigan’s upcoming postseason aspirations.
After the first serve, fans’ hearts soared as the Wolverines scored first. With servers constantly rotating, no team was able to score two consecutive points until halfway through the first set.
An early lead was procured by Maryland (16-11 overall, 7-8 Big Ten) over Michigan (19-7, 8-7 ) for a score of 25-20 at the end of the set. The Terrapins maintained this momentum throughout the game, sweeping the Wolverines, 3-0.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen attributed the loss of the first set to weak defense and a lack of urgency from the players.
“I don’t think we passed well in the first set,” Rosen said. “But I honestly think the tone was set, in the very first set, with our defensive effort. We didn’t make good effort after balls, we were letting them get soft kills. That to me looks like a team that expects it just to happen versus going to make things happen, and I think what was happening was it sets this tone where things weren’t going right for us, and we get a little frustrated and they get momentum.”
This lack of energy on the court was felt by others, including senior libero Jenna Lerg, who felt that Michigan needed to play less sluggish.
“As a team, every single person needs to play consistently and needs to play hard on every single play and every single touch,” Lerg said. “Right now, I think not everyone is committed to that game plan, so it’s really a mindset because we know we can play as well as we have before, like we did three days ago at Wisconsin. Really buying into that mindset and believing you can play that well.”
One dominating force throughout the match was freshman outside hitter Paige Jones. With a total of 37 kills, Jones was tied on the most attempted kills for the Wolverines’ roster. Jones, in the midst of an extremely strong first season, currently ranks second on the team with 3.33 kills per set.
Jones isn’t the only freshman who shined on the court Wednesday night. Freshman setter Erin O’Leary made her collegiate debut when she was subbed in for junior MacKenzi Welsh in the second set.
“I think she’s a very tactical setter,” Rosen said. “She makes very good decisions. I thought she brought a great personality. They tried to go over the top of her because she’s a little bit smaller block but not one time did she hurt us in blocking, and I just thought she did a really good job.
“The tough thing is I don’t think her location was great, but it’s her first match she’s played collegiately. She’s coming in with us being in a tough position being down, and so that’s a really hard position to be thrown into, and I thought she did an outstanding job.”
Putting O’Leary in the game, combined with a timeout in the middle of the second set, ushered in a change of momentum for the Wolverines.
“I think they probably had a really good scout on us because it seemed everywhere we set the ball, there was a double block,” Lerg said. “I think once we got into the set we started setting other people and opening up some gaps and playing harder on defense which helped a lot.”
Michigan finally began gaining ground in the second set, coming back from a six-point deficit and leading to a 25-25 tie. Fans got to their feet as the score rose to 28-28. Just as it looked like the Wolverines were primed for a strong comeback, Maryland outside hitter Erika Pritchard came in to finish of the set for the Terrapins, 30-28.
After a third set which closely mirrored the first, Michigan is focusing on getting ready for its match against Nebraska next week.
“I think we can do a better job with every single person ready and excited to go in the match even if you aren’t in a starting role,” Lerg said. “To get a chance to play and get the chance to succeed in a Big Ten (match) is really exciting and I hope we can continue to take that opportunity and run with it.”