With strong defensive play, Michigan earned its tenth-straight victory against in-state foe, Michigan State. Alyssa Shea Mulligan/Daily. Buy this photo.

Rivalry week continued in Ann Arbor into Sunday when the Michigan volleyball team (14-8 overall, 5-7 Big Ten) took on Michigan State (10-13, 1-11) at the Crisler Center. The Wolverines’ win streak against the Spartans extended to 10 straight wins over the past five years. Michigan relied on defensive plays both at the net and in the back row to extend this streak.

The Wolverines’ strong presence at the net made a statement from the onset of the match. They started the first set with numerous attacks converted into kills, catching Michigan State’s defense off guard.

Junior outside hitter Allison Jacobs led Michigan in kills with a total of nine for the game, helping to generate point scoring opportunities at the net. Her success also played a role in the Wolverines’ 0.371 attacking rate in the first set, a stat that reflects Michigan’s strong offensive performance.

This translated into a quick 25-17 win for Michigan in the first set, clearly outmatching the Spartans’ abysmal attack rate of 0.129. While the Wolverines’ offensive strength didn’t falter throughout the second set, which resulted in another 25-17 win, the third set saw defensive adjustments by Michigan State that sunk Michigan’s attack rate down to a shocking 0.077.

“Our goal is to hit above 0.250 as a team,” Michigan coach Mark Rosen said. “It came down a little bit in that third set when we were trying some different stuff, so it got affected.” 

Even with new tactics being tested out in the third set and more defensive pushback, the Wolverines were still able to hold on and complete the 3-0 sweep against the Spartans. While offensive success was crucial to this win, Michigan’s defense both at the net and in the back row also played an integral role in extending their winning streak.

The strong defense at the net was reinforced by consistent backcourt play. Redshirt junior libero Hannah Grant ended the game with 15 digs, the most on Michigan. While not a season best, her efforts against Michigan State proved to be enough. But, this success wouldn’t be possible without, once again, work at the net.

“Blocking really helps, in my sense,” Grant said. “(The) blockers have been doing a phenomenal job of setting up a really good block so I can read around them. Working on us working together at practice has been really beneficial.”

The combined efforts of the blockers and Grant’s digs in the back helped the team keep the Spartans under a 0.155 attacking rate in each set. The Wolverines looked strong on both sides of the net in their rivalry match, allowing them to take their 10th win in a row against Michigan State.

Jacobs, with her offensive success, also noted the impact of Michigan’s positions at the net. Without her teammates in prime position up front, she wouldn’t have as many opportunities to drive the Wolverines’ attack. The offense proved rock solid throughout each set in the sweep.

“I’m front row with amazing options and they hold blockers for me,” Jacobs said. “When I do get set, I’m in perfect position to succeed and I attribute that to my setters. We have been working on getting that first ball. So, if we get a good passing system, there are many options.”

The last time the Spartans beat Michigan was Nov. 15, 2017. That streak speaks to the strength of the Wolverines and the program they’ve created and maintained. An aggressive attack strategy and successful conversion to kills allowed Michigan to extend its lead in this year’s matchup, while defensive prowess in the back helped it hinder Michigan State’s success.

“I think we’re playing good volleyball,” Rosen said. “And that’s our focus. The winning and losing, you can’t always control. That depends a bit on who you play and how things go.” 

If the Wolverines continue to play good volleyball and lean on their play at the net, they might see similar outcomes in their upcoming Big Ten games.