Ending the non-conference season without a loss on its record would have been an impressive feat for the No. 20 Michigan volleyball team, which had been off to its best start since 2011.
The Wolverines (10-1) traveled to take on Duke and North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where Michigan was defeated by the Tar Heels, 3-0 (18-25, 7-25, 19-25), in Sunday’s matchup for its first loss of the season.
“We knew there was certain things that (North) Carolina likes to do,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “We made really no adjustments to make changes to try and affect them. So we kind of let them do what they do best.”
The loss came after Michigan swept Duke, 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-21) Saturday to extend its then-perfect record.
With his team trailing early in the first set against Duke, Rosen was forced to call a timeout. The Wolverines responded with a 10-1 scoring run that built up a strong lead. The offense seemed to be running out of gas again as the Blue Devils (5-4) tried to rally, but another timeout and set of adjustments from Rosen led to Michigan sealing the first-set victory.
“Even though we defended really well (against Duke), I didn’t think the rhythm of our offense was very good,” Rosen said. “We just didn’t have the tempo and rhythm we normally have.”
Key efforts against the Blue Devils came from sophomore outside hitter Adeja Lambert, who had five of Michigan’s first 10 kills and finished with a team high of 13. Sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop had 10 digs to go with five kills.
Senior middle blocker Krystalyn Goode contributed with six kills and two blocks, as Michigan held on to win, despite the issues.
Sunday against North Carolina, more frequent lapses in play proved too costly, as the Tar Heels (3-7) were too much for Michigan to handle.
Despite thier losing record, the Tar Heels have been competitive in matches against seven different ranked opponents so far this season, and they are still receiving votes in the American Volleyball Coaches association poll, making their victory over the Wolverines less of an upset than their record would suggest.
Against Michigan, North Carolina dominated the first two sets before clinching the win. Tied 11-11 in the third set, the Tar Heels eventually wore down the Wolverines and won the third set and the match, 25-19.
“We knew they were capable of that,” Rosen said. “They haven’t played that well much this year, and tonight they did. Give them all the credit, they played extremely well. I think had we played our best match (Sunday), it would have been a dogfight. The frustrating part for us is that we really didn’t give ourselves that opportunity.”
Michigan struggled to control the ball — something Rosen said is normally a strength for his team. North Carolina’s defense also caused problems for Wolverines’ attack, two factors which worked in unison against the Wolverines, who were also hindered by injury.
Knop — a key player in Michigan’s rotations — suffered an injury that kept her out of the match at times and made it difficult for her to contribute as usual.
“It wasn’t anything major,” Rosen said. “She was having some back muscle spasms, and she wasn’t able to play her normal role and have her normal impact. I think that certainly made a factor, because she’s someone we look a lot for productivity, and also just stability.”
Knop is tied with junior middle blocker Abby Cole for the team lead in kills at 112. Rosen said problems with passing the ball against the Tar Heels made it difficult to get Cole the ball, making Michigan’s two most productive players on offense ineffective.
Rosen wasn’t happy with the weekend’s performance, but was optimistic about the Wolverines’ ability to curtail future miscues as Big Ten competition begins.
“I’m confident with this team,” Rosen said. “I think this team has a high ceiling. I think that we still have a ton of room to get better, which is encouraging. It’s exciting. But, you never know.”